The loss of a job, a lengthy illness or financial emergency can leave families and individuals unable to pay for their cost of living. The city of Houston, along with the state of Texas, offers several programs to help individuals cover their cost of living, have access to health care and purchase healthy food.
The Houston area offers a variety of income assistance programs, depending on a family's needs. For example, the Section 8 program offers housing vouchers to reduce the cost of rent, and the SNAP program offers debit cards to pay for groceries. Several programs such as the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program and Lite Up reduce or cover the cost of utility bills.
Parents can receive assistance covering their children’s medical expenses under the CHIP program. Women under 44 years old can receive free women’s health exams through the Women’s Health Program, and seniors and the disabled can receive discounted medical care through the Medicaid program. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families gives families grants in the form of cash.
Typically, assistance for low-income families comes in the form of vouchers or direct payment to the company. For example, individuals on Medicaid or women on the Women’s Health Program will receive a medical card to use at participating doctors' offices and hospitals. The Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program pays the utility company directly.
Cash benefit programs, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, pay up to $492 a month directly to families in need, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The majority of low-income assistance programs come through different departments within the federal and Texas governments. For example, the City of Houston’s Department of Housing and Community Development offers low-income housing and Section 8 vouchers, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs offers energy-assistance programs. Other programs, such as Lite Up, come from a coalition between the state of Texas and local utility companies.
To qualify for an assistance program an individual or the head of a family must meet income guidelines. For example, to qualify for low-income housing in Houston, annual family household income must not exceed 80 percent of the median income in the state, according to the City of Houston Department of Housing and Community Development. Other qualifications include steadily looking for work, having a child in need or having a disability, depending on the type of assistance.
Individuals can apply for assistance in person at the office of the department offering the assistance program. In some instances, individuals and families can apply online, over the phone or by contacting their utility company. Houston residents can receive applications details for most assistance programs by calling 2-1-1, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.