Assistance for Low-Income Families

If you are a low-income parent with minor children, there are a number of government programs that can help you meet at least some of your basic needs. Assistance is available that can provide cash, food, and medical treatment to you and your family.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is offered through the Department of Health and Human Services, and is the program most often referred to as "welfare." It provides cash assistance (though not a lot – the average TANF monthly payment is a few hundred dollars) and work support for low-income families with children.

If eligible, you may receive TANF for up to five years, though states may extend assistance beyond the 60 months under some circumstances.

In order to qualify for TANF, you have to meet certain requirements:

  • You must work as soon as you can, or no later than two years after receiving TANF.
  • If you are a single parent, you are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week (this condition may be waived if you have a child under six and you can’t find adequate child care).
  • If you are a two-parent family, you work between 35 and 55 hours a week.
  • If you are an unmarried minor parent, you must participate in educational and training activities and live with a responsible adult.

Food Stamps
If you are struggling to feed your family, you may qualify for food stamps, which can at least help buy a few nutritional necessities. These programs are county-monitored, and depending on where you live, you may receive coupons or a “debit card” that you can use like cash at most grocery stores.

To get food stamps, you and the people in your household must meet certain conditions:

  • Everyone in the household must have or have applied for a Social Security number.
  • You and all members of your household between the ages of 18 and 60 must register for work, or participate in an employment and training program.
  • If you are a college student, you also may be eligible for food stamps.
  • Your household can't have more than a few thousand dollars in assets – which includes cash and other property.

Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children
If you are a low-income woman with infants and children, you may receive food, nutrition counseling, and access to health services under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – commonly known as WIC. This program provides Federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for qualifying pregnant, breast-feeding, and non-breast-feeding women.

Most state WIC programs provide vouchers that you may use at authorized grocery stores. WIC may only be used to purchase specific foods, such as milk, produce, and bread, though you may also receive special infant formulas and certain medical foods if your doctor prescribes them.

If your income is very low, you may qualify for Medicaid – a federal program that provides medical and health-related services to those who earn very little money. Each state administers its own programs, establishes its own eligibility standards, determines the type, amount, duration, and scope of services, and sets the rate of payment for services.

Income restrictions vary by state and the number of people in your household. For example, in New York a family of five will qualify for Medicaid if they earn up to about a thousand dollars a month. In other states the amount will be slightly more or less.

Medicaid is available:

  • If you are a low-income family with children.
  • If you receive Supplemental Security Income.
  • If you are a low-income pregnant woman.
  • To your infants, if you are a mother eligible for Medicaid (benefits continue for the first year of life so long as the infant remains in your household and you remains eligible).
  • To children under the age of six.
  • To you if you are a recipient of adoption or foster care assistance.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Office of Family Assistance

Food Assistance – SNAP and WIC
U.S. State Department of Agriculture; Food and Nutrition Service

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services

For assistance via phone, contact your local department of human services.