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Navigating Food Stamps, Medicaid and other State Programs

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

More and more people need to seek state aid in today’s economy. If you’ve never needed assistance of any sort before, navigating the paperwork and meetings required for food, medical and job education problems can be a challenge and source of considerable stress. While unemployment benefits can typically be applied for and managed on-line, state assistance cannot be.

Start by gathering paperwork. You will need proof of income, including proof of change of income if you have recently lost your job. You should also have social security numbers for each family member, the previous year’s tax forms, and bank statements. You may also need evidence of any assets, depending upon the type of aid. You will find that it is easier and more efficient if you arrive with everything you need in hand. While specific state requirements differ, it is far better to have too much information available. Be sure that you provide an honest accounting of your financial situation.

Allow plenty of time when you visit your local Division of Family Services office. You may find it helpful to call beforehand and see if appointments are available. If not, arrive early in the morning, but be prepared to wait. You can expect to fill out a several page application, and may have a personal interview as well. Copies will be made of all of your supporting information. If your financial situation is especially dire, emergency aid may be available; however, in many cases you will wait 30 days for a decision.

Typically medical coverage for children and pregnant women is available with relatively generous income limits. Child care assistance, food stamps, and cash assistance have somewhat more stringent requirements depending upon the state. Many employed individuals or those on unemployment will still qualify for child care assistance and even food stamps. If you have taken a lower paying job or a pay cut in order to stay employed, these options may help you to stay afloat until your personal situation improves somewhat.

Social workers at the Division of Family Services in your county may also be able to provide you with resources for other aid within your community. Energy assistance and food pantries are available in some communities. Additional job training resources, financial aid programs for further education, and vocational re-education may also be available. Community health care centers may provide sliding scale care to help those struggling financially.

While applying for and accepting aid can be a difficult, demeaning and unpleasant process, it can also provide your children with health care access and ease your financial burdens during rough economic times.