As a child, I grew up in the suburbs in a middle class family. We didn’t have a lot of money for extra things like vacations or expensive toys, but we were never in want of anything. Now, my husband and I are several years into seminary life (rigorous 4-year Master’s program), have had a child, and are regularly on our knees praying for financial provision. Sometimes God has provided through extraordinary means – an unexpected check from a family member or leftovers from a wedding reception – but other times He has provided through resources that are available to other low-income families like us. Until being in this stage of life, I never knew about these resources – or at least never thought I would be in a situation where I would need to use them. Now, this is not a political plug for a big government, but I will say that each of these resources are provided through the federal government, and I have never been more grateful in my life for that. However, some of these things are hard to get into, confusing how to apply, etc. I want to make it easy on you and provide links and simple instructions on how to sign up for these resources, if that is your need.
WIC stands for “Women, Infants, and Children” and is a Special Supplemental Nutrition Program specifically designed for – you guessed it – women, infants, and children, up to age 5. It is determined on a yearly basis and provides nutritional and breastfeeding support as well as healthy groceries every 30 days. To see whether you might be eligible, you can complete a 15 minute (though it only took me 3 minutes) pre-screening tool here. The process for applying for and receiving WIC benefits is as follows:
- Schedule an appointment with your local WIC agency
- Bring the following items to your appointment
- Proof of Current Benefits Enrollment – Medicaid, SNAP, or TANF (if applicable)
- Proof of Employment/Income – check stubs, statement from employer
- Proof of Identity [Mother] – driver’s license, passport, SS card
- Proof of Identity [Child(ren)] – birth certificate, medical records
- Proof of Residency – utility bill, lease, voter registration
- Proof of Pregnancy – statement from doctor, sonogram (if applicable)
- Receive monthly vouchers/checks for food
- Purchase food packages with vouchers at your local WIC Distribution Center
- Return for scheduled appointments at your local health department
I thought for the longest time that Medicare and Medicaid were basically the same until my daughter received insurance through one of them. Medicare is determined by age (only available to those 65 years and older), while Medicaid is determined by income, though the requirements vary by state. Thus, we don’t have Medicare, but our daughter has been on Medicaid since she was born. It is incredibly comforting to know that I don’t have to take out of savings if she is sick and needs a doctor’s visit and medications to get better. Medicaid will also provide transportation to and from doctor’s appointments if needed.
In order to apply for Medicaid, you can either fill out an application with your state Medicaid agency (see here), or you can complete an application for health insurance through healthcare.gov. In my experience, going directly through the agency is faster.
My husband and I have health insurance through the Marketplace (healthcare.gov), and that has also been an answer to prayer as we both have health issues that we need health insurance, doctor’s visits, and prescriptions for. The way that the Marketplace works is that you fill out an application on healthcare.gov, and then it presents you with several plans to choose from and how much tax credit you will be awarded. For instance, if Plan B has a monthly premium of $350 and you are awarded a $200 tax credit, then you would end up paying $150 per month if you selected that plan. The only catch is that the tax credit is dependent upon how much you think you’ll make for the year, so if you end up making more than you expected, then you will have to pay extra taxes the following year, and vice versa. This year ours worked out so that our tax credit actually surpassed the amount of the monthly premium of the plan that we wanted, so each month we receive a bill that says “please pay your balance of $0.00”. 😀 Now, we still pay for co-pays, prescriptions, have to meet a deductible, etc. – but not having another monthly bill is a huge weight lifted especially when our income is not stable at this time in our lives.
Previously known as Food Stamps, SNAP stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”. I originally thought that food stamps was a painstaking process only for those who were really poor, but was surprised to find that after I had to quit my full-time job to stay home with our child and work part-time, we then became eligible based upon our household size and income. Like with Medicaid, each state has a different income threshold, so complete the pre-screening tool to see if you may qualify. To apply, you will need to complete an application and interview with your local SNAP office.
It took me about 2 months to complete the whole process, but actually using the food stamps is super easy! You receive a card that has your monthly allowance automatically loaded on each month, and it carries over from month to month. You create a pin for your card so it just works like a debit card. The SNAP benefits can only be used towards groceries – no toiletries, alcohol, or medicine – and it only works at most traditional grocery stores/supermarkets (otherwise I’d do all my shopping on Amazon!). For more information on what and where you can use your SNAP benefits for, see here.
Receiving SNAP benefits shortly after having our daughter was a lifesaver and answer to prayer for me. I had developed a gluten intolerance sometime during pregnancy/labor/delivery, and I was stressing out how I was going to eat something other than canned beans in order to stay alive and under budget. Now I can provide healthy, nutritious meals for myself and my family!
In the past year I have probably learned more about the federal government and God’s way of provision than I have in the rest of my life combined. These financial resources have allowed me and my family to focus on what’s most important and learn how to pray instead of fret about our needs. Though all systems can be abused, the intent of these programs is to help those in need, and I have found myself in this time of life being grateful for the system.
If you have other resources or programs to help families in need, please comment and share! We can all benefit from one another’s experiences.