Three government programs that could help those in need during pandemic

Posted at 4:22 PM, Dec 16, 2020

Millions of Americans have fallen into poverty waiting for Congress to pass another stimulus package.

“It seems like every time we get really, really close, then nothing transpires,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy advisor at Employ America. “There is a sense of urgency within the halls of Congress, but that same urgency was there in July when the $600 top off expired.

Pancotti added that in addition to new help from Congress, millions of people may be unaware of programs already in place to help. In fact, those who have lost their job and can’t afford to pay rent should consider three programs many people don’t know about, especially if they have never needed this kind of help before.

“The first one is SNAP, or more commonly known as food stamps. That could provide $200 to $600 per week,” explained Pancotti. “The second program is TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”

It is important to note that SNAP benefits can only be used for food. Additionally, SNAP benefit amounts can vary from state to state and can vary by family size. On average, an individual receives a maximum benefit of around $200 per month, while a family of four can usually receive around $650 per month. However, a family of six can receive around $920 a month and, in some states, every additional family member could add around $150 in benefits a month.

TANF is only for families, adults with children, and there is usually a work requirement. However, many states are relaxing the work requirement during the pandemic, and ultimately, most families are receiving $400 to $1000 a month in financial assistance.

“The third program is going to be on a state-by-state basis, so some UI, or unemployment insurance offices, have tried to extend benefits for longer, or tried to top off benefits,” added Pancotti. "For example, in the District of Columbia, they are planning to send checks to every PUA worker.”

With all three programs, it could take up to 30 days to get enrolled, so it is recommended that those in need apply now and apply even with a new stimulus package.

“Even if Congress comes to an agreement this week, it is very likely that for most, if not all UI recipients, there will be a lag in getting those top off payments,” explained Pancotti. "If there is a $300-$400 top off, it will be weeks before that starts showing up on checks. It will be weeks before people who are kicked out of the system will be brought back in.”