The US federal government provides a wide range of assistance programs to its citizens and residents, especially low-income households, to cover their needs that may be difficult to manage on their limited income.
The various programs can cover a significant portion of low-income households’ educational and healthcare expenses, assist people with disabilities, and extend living expenses for deficient-income families.
They also help to give families access to or free internet by providing internet service, which may ensure children’s basic needs are met, such as through the National School Lunch Program or school breakfast program. In addition, federal public housing assistance helps families ensure they have a roof over their heads.
Why Might you Need a Government Assistance Program?
These programs also help to meet the needs of the elderly and even offer discounts for a high-speed internet connection to help people with their work or studies.
A significant percentage of the people in the country receive these benefits, and the Covid-19 pandemic has further increased these numbers. Currently, 59 million people receive some welfare (TANF), and four out of ten have received their benefits for over three years.
Similarly, 38 million people received nutrition benefits (SNAP) in 2019. Read on for a comprehensive snapshot with all the essential information you need to know about these schemes and other common federal assistance programs in the USA.
Federal Financial Aid for Students
Many students benefit from financial aid in various forms, which the federal government offers to allow them to study in college, technical school, or career schools.
This aid can be in grants, scholarships, federal student loans, or work-study programs. All these benefits are offered to students who demonstrate financial need. To access these benefits, students must register through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) site as an initial step.
Types of Federal Student Aid
Federal student aid falls into different categories: grants/scholarships, federal loans, and federal work-study.
- Federal student loans
Federal student loans are a lot better than private loans: they have better repayment terms and are far more affordable. The different types of federal student loans include:
- Direct subsidized loan: Offered to undergraduate students, the Department of Education will pay the interest on this type of loan.
- Direct unsubsidized loan: This kind of loan is offered to undergraduate and graduate students, but the students themselves need to pay the interest.
- Direct PLUS loan: This loan helps pay for graduate and professional students’ expenses not covered by other financial aid. The loan is either in the student’s or their parent’s name.
- Federal Grants and Scholarships
Grants and scholarships, unlike loans, don’t typically have to be repaid. For example, the US Department of Education offers the following different types of grants to students.
- Federal Pell Grants: This grant is offered to eligible undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Also, for students with exceptional financial needs, this grant is administered directly by the financial aid office.
- Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grant: This grant is offered to students whose parents or guardians died while in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
- TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant: Students must complete a teaching service obligation to qualify for this grant.
- Federal Work-study
Under this provision, you will get paid employment part-time on-campus or off-campus. This program is generally open to students who demonstrate financial need. The wages are usually in the range of federal minimum wage and above.
Besides the basic eligibility requirements, you must apply, attend an interview, and be hired to be accepted into the work-study program.
General Eligibility Criteria for Federal Student Financial Aid
The general eligibility criteria for a student to receive federal aid are:
- Demonstration of financial need
- Being a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen
- Possession of a Social Security Number
- Being an enrolled student or accepted for enrolment as a regular student for an eligible degree/certificate program
- Satisfactory academic performance
- Submission of the signed FAFSA form stating that you are not in default of a federal student loan and do not owe money to a federal grant due to non-fulfillment of its conditions.
Applying through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
As an initial step to apply for student benefits, you’ll need to create an FSA ID online, fill out the FAFSA form, and submit it online via the FAFSA website. After submitting it, you can check the status online anytime.
The submission deadline for the school year 2022-2023 is June 30, 2023. Instead of going online, you can also fill out a paper form and mail it to the FAFSA physical address.
Free and Affordable High-Speed Internet Broadband Services
There is a range of schemes from private providers and government agencies that offer free and affordable internet for students and needy households by working with internet service providers.
Out of the many existing programs, the two major ones offered by the government FCC (Federal Communications Commission) are ACP (Affordable Connectivity Program) and Lifeline Support.
When low income families have kids that go to school, these can serve as useful schemes for free internet for students by the government and internet providers. There are more details on these programs below.
Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Internet Service
Previously known as Emergency Broadband Benefit until the name changed on December 31, 2021, this program is now known as the Affordable Connectivity Program. The new Affordable Connectivity Program is offered to low-income households by the FCC to meet their high-speed internet connectivity needs for studies, work, and healthcare by giving them access to affordable internet plans.
Benefits and Requirements
Under this low-income internet program, eligible households can access free internet access for up to $30 per month. In this way, needy households can enjoy free or discounted internet and high-speed internet access. For households in qualifying Tribal lands, the benefit for high-speed internet service increases to $75 per month.
Besides the free internet benefit, eligible households can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 for purchasing a laptop, desktop, or tablet from participating sellers, provided they pay a minimum amount from $10 to $50.
To be eligible for the ACP program, households need to have an income of 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or lower. Eligibility is also extended to those receiving other assistance, such as a Pell Grant, Medicaid, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Lifeline Support is another federal program that provides a discount for phone and internet services, with a value of up to $9.25 per month for normal low-income families and up to $34.25 for those in Tribal lands.
Those with an income of 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or less are eligible for the program. The federal government offers this benefit through participating telecom providers.
To access this benefit, you must first apply to the program and confirm that you qualify. Then, you must sign up for a provider of your choice from the list of participating providers. You’ll need then deal directly with the provider, but you’ll need to re-certify every year to continue using the benefit.
The various cash and non-cash assistance programs offered by the US federal government offer invaluable assistance to many low-income households. In addition, millions of US citizens and residents survive using benefits like TANF, SNAP, SSI, and educational benefits. Recently, many programs have modified their terms and conditions to serve low-income families better.
Additionally, some programs have been renamed or removed entirely to be replaced by better ones. Therefore, it’s important to research and collect the latest information on these programs and follow the application procedures correctly.
Remember that although the federal government provides the funds for all of these programs, regardless of whether they are for nutrition benefits or free internet, most are administered by state governments. Eligible individuals must register for benefits in their respective states. Terms and conditions for various assistance programs may also vary slightly from state to state.