What Are Subsidies for Low Income?

Financial assistance is available to low-income families in every state.
Financial assistance is available to low-income families in every state. (Image: PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Low-income subsidies help individuals and families who either have no jobs or else do not have enough income to reasonably sustain a household’s living needs. The government offers assistance to families who cannot afford many types of common expenses, such as food, health care, legal fees and even college. However, enrollment depends on a household’s income and assets, and enrollees must re-qualify for subsidies on a regular basis to remain in a government-sponsored assistance program.


Several types of low-income subsidies are available to those who need it. For example, most states provide government housing, as well as home energy subsidies to help low-income households afford heating and cooling costs. Furthermore, the government provides financial aid to help homes afford nutritious foods through the food stamp program, and low-income school children have access to free or discounted school breakfasts and lunches. Other subsidies include temporary cash assistance, a federal Pell grant to help low to middle-income families afford college, and Medicaid, which provides free or low-cost health care to qualifying low-income individuals and families.


Low-income government subsidies exist on both the federal and state level. The extent of assistance available varies by state, as do the qualification guidelines for eligibility. Many states determine eligibility based on a household’s size and income in relation to the federal poverty limit. For example, a state may determine that pregnant women must have household incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty limit in order to qualify for pregnancy Medicaid. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes the federal poverty limit each spring, and it can vary year to year.


Many government subsidy programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, have no limits on how long an individual or family can receive benefits so long as those enrolled are working or have children. For those programs, enrollees must re-qualify for benefits on a regular basis – usually every few months to a year. Other subsidy programs limit the amount of time you can continue receiving benefits, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program that limits benefits to no more than 60 months. Additionally, if you move to another state while receiving a state-issued government subsidy, you must reapply and qualify for benefits according to your new state’s eligibility guidelines.


Depending on the type of low-income subsidy you apply for, you may have to submit your application either on the state or federal level. Individual state health and human services departments distribute most household and living expense subsidies, such as food stamps, Medicaid and temporary cash assistance. On the other hand, some divisions of the federal government, such as the U.S. Department of Education that administers the federal Pell grant program, require that applicants request financial aid directly.

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