Low income families use community resources to stretch their budgets, often to pay for necessities like food and housing. In 2008, more than 40 million families in the United States met the criteria for low income or living below the federal poverty level, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. Federal government funds help states to provide many of the resources available to low income families and community organizations operate programs that address unmet need.
Community centers help low income families meet needs not provided for by their income or by public assistance resources. Community centers operate food banks, pay overdue utility bills and rent, provide funds to help adults purchase items or pay for transportation for new jobs, and help children with school supplies and holiday items.
Earned Income Tax Credit
Low income working families can claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit, and receive a tax refund if they qualify for the credit and if the total amount of taxes they owe is less than the credit. The credit may reduce the amount of taxes low income families pay.
Federal Child Tax Credit
Eligible low income families with a qualifying child or children may claim the Child Tax Credit. In 2010, the credit gave a $1,000 per child deduction; however, families with incomes under $11,300 do not qualify for the tax credit. The Additional Child Tax Credit may be available to families for whom the amount of their Child Tax Credit exceeds the amount of income tax owed.
Higher Education Assistance
The U.S. Department of Education administers the federal student aid program and offers six grants to low income families, including Federal Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). The program also offers five federal student loan programs, some of which are income based. Low income families may also claim education tax credits when filing income tax returns such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Hope Scholarship Credit.
Home Energy Assistance
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides federal funds to states to help families, renters and homeowners, pay for heating bills and other heat related expenses, including electricity, coal, wood, gas, oil, kerosene and propane. The funds provide for annual assistance and also for emergency assistance. The Weatherization Assistance Program provides funds for private home insulation to decrease energy costs.
Families whose income places them below the poverty level may qualify for public health insurance, such as Medical Assistance. For families that do not qualify for public health insurance, nonprofit organizations operate free and reduced fee health clinics that provide services such as free medication, health education, lifestyle programs and free health screenings. State public health departments operate clinics that provide similar services, including testing for communicable diseases.
Nutrition Assistance Programs
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides federal funds to states for nutrition assistance programs which help low income families and their children. Nutrition programs include the food stamp or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Women, Infants and Children (WIC); National School Lunch Programs; Food Distribution Programs and nutrition programs for the elderly.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides funds for housing programs throughout the country, including public housing, housing for seniors and Section 8 vouchers for rental assistance. HUD housing programs focus on helping low income families achieve self sufficiency. Nonprofit organizations operate homeless shelters or transitional housing for families who need help finding permanent housing.
Subsidized childcare programs allow parents to pay income based fees or to enroll their children in free childcare. The Child Care and Development Fund provides federal grants to states to help families afford child care so they can work, take job training classes or attend school. The Head Start program provides nutrition and school readiness services to children from low income families.
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
The TANF program is the nation’s primary welfare or public assistance program. TANF provides funds to states to assist low income families. Assistance may include financial assistance, job training and other assistance to help low income families achieve self sufficiency. TANF programs are administered by local departments of social services.