The U.S. federal government spends upward of $1 trillion annually — or more than 2.5% of its Gross Domestic Product — on benefits. These include programs for relief, unemployment compensation, support for low income individuals and families, health care services and Medicaid. In fact, according to usgovernmentspending.com, current spending on healthcare services for the poor is now close to 4% of the GDP — not including Medicare.
This is an astounding number, and one that has increased dramatically since the early 20th century. Where it will go over the next decade is hard to predict. A report from the Congressional Research Service based on 2011 data listed 83 federal welfare programs that overlap in terms of whom they serve. These programs together exceeded $1 trillion just for means-tested support programs. That means that they do not include programs like Medicare and Social Security which people contribute to.
If programs are overlapping certainly steps will probably be taken to eliminate duplications. Yet the U.S. will continue to spend heavily to support those in need. In any event it is critical is to know what benefits are available, what you may qualify for, and how to go about applying and receiving those benefits.
Discover your program today!
Some will react negatively to that term. Are benefits really “free”? Certainly they must be paid for somehow, and by someone. In the U.S. benefits are paid for with tax revenues (as there is really no such thing as “government money” — it’s simply money that the government has taken from individuals in the form of taxes.) We increase the availability of funds not just by increasing taxes but ideally by creating a healthy and dynamic business environment, stimulating the economy and creating more wealth (for all).
For those who qualify to be on the receiving end of benefits those benefits are typically free. Some require that recipients work or be looking for work and some require proof of citizenship. But for the most part they are free. Major (and not so major) categories are detailed below and links are provided for more detailed information:
Update May 2019 The issue of “Retirement Security” is gaining traction as a major social policy issue,according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. Many people do not have access to retirement savings plans at their place of work, and others may not create IRA’s to fund on their own. The results could be a serious problem for individuals and the country. So some states are forging alliances to support workers who don’t have employer retirement plans. Other states are working to require employers to enroll workers in individual IRA’s automatically. The IRS has already announced higher contribution limits for 401-k type plans and for the maximum that can be contributed to individual IRA’s in a given year.
News October 2018 Congress appears to be close to a deal to raise the salaries of federal civilian (i.e., non-military) employees in 2019. It’s not a done deal though as Democrats are opposing the proposal. They object to what they call “partisan riders” so it’s not clear if the pay raise will go through. It’s also uncertain whether the pay increase freeze for political appointees will be lifted. Of course these benefits only affect government employees but if you have been considering looking for a government job you might want to get serious about it now…
April 2018 Update
You can sign up for the government’s benefits newsletter and stay on top of changes as well as new opportunities. For example, the April 2018 edition of “Compass” highlights ideas for how students can make their summers very productive (info on Internship programs, the FAFSA, Pell Grants, a Federal Work-Study Program, Summer Job ideas and more!) tips and free programs to help improve your financial literacy, where to find tax help (it’s not too late!) for those with disabilities, and learn about the Education Loan Consolidation Program offered by the Department of Education. There’s also a salute to our veterans and further information about health care benefits, survivors’ pension and the Survivors’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
Two major categories of benefits for seniors kick in based on age: Social Security and Medicare. These provide income support and healthcare services and are pretty well known to all. But there are many more services available to seniors, and some are not so well known.
Our review of Grants for Seniors details programs and services in the categories of Food and Nutrition, Housing, Utilities, Employment, the Arts and Social Security. Check out Grants for Seniors to review the basics and also to see how to be sure you are receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled.
Are you missing out on government benefits that you should begetting? A recent article in caring.com listed several that many people aren’t aware of or receiving. They include payments to dependents from Social Security (these occur after someone dies and they’re not familiar with “survivor benefits”). A specific example includes the fact that parents can collect up to half of a person’s SS payment if they were dependent on the deceased person for half or more of their support. Another example explains that you might be able to get free transportation to your appointments and other activities. It’s called Paratransit and is provided by local agencies which receive federal funds for this purpose. You can get more details from your local Area Agency on Aging.
Some other lesser known benefits are worth looking into:
Household & Yard Tasks Help
Area Agencies on Aging have locations throughout the United States. They provide a wide range of local services to support seniors. For example, if you are over 60 and/or disabled you might be able to get free help with household tasks and chores you can no longer easily handle yourself. These might include yard work and needed repairs (if they don’t require a special license). Sometimes you might be asked to pay a small amount up front and then apply for grant assistance, but much of the time these services are free.
This is another benefit offered through local Agencies on Aging. If you have difficulty using public transportation you may be able to get free paratransit service, which is a door-to-door service provided by appointment. Local agencies receive federal funds to provide the service. You do need to do some advance planning and make an appointment for these services — they are not typically available on demand.
Medicare Part B Benefits
Many are unaware of some of the benefits available through this program. One example is services for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Services that are covered include things like speech therapy, occupational therapy and outpatient physical therapy. The treatments must be prescribed by a doctor and the providers do not have to be physicians, they just need to be Medicare-certified.
Another more obscure Medicare Part B Benefit is the provision of special shoes and inserts required by diabetics. If you’re eligible for Medicare Part B and you have been diagnosed with diabetes you could qualify. For those under a doctor’s care for diabetes management who have serious foot problems, 80% of the cost of custom shoes and three pairs of inserts will be covered. You must have a prescription for therapeutic shoes, which will be fitted by a podiatrist or by a participating licensed specialist.
The most common and well known source for disability is Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). This article about Social Security explains more about what SSDI is and how and when you can apply.
There are also many more resources for assistance for the disabled. There used to be a great website maintained by the government which provided details on resources for the disabled and their families and caregivers. Unfortunately this site has been sunset and is no longer accessible or maintained. We are doing our best to access and update some of the information that was provided and will post news when that is available. In the meantime you should check out our article about Disability Grants. And if you try to go to disability.gov you will get to a site maintained by the Department of Labor. It provides many resources to help the disabled find employment. They also provide some links to other resources.
In most communities you should be able to find an Agency on Aging and Disability. This is an excellent source of support services specific to your local area.
Of course the most common source of information about benefits for Veterans is the Veterans Administration. Our review of va.gov provides a guide and tips about how to use that site as well as what changes are coming in the future. Grants for Veterans offers more information about relevant health care programs (improving under the Trump administration), support for starting your own business, a $3.4 million grant to help with homelessness among vets, a travel reimbursement program, a new dental care program, housing and home ownership and government jobs for vets.
In the lesser known benefits category, veterans with a disability can get a loan or a loan that is government guaranteed to purchase a car or even a house — or to make necessary modifications to a house or car. Check with the VA about these as well as the VA’s SAH grants (Specially Adapted Housing). These grants can be used to make your home more accessible based on your disability.
The federal government is the largest but not the only giver of grants and services. Each state maintains its own programs, grants and support for its citizens. You can find out what is available by going directly to your state’s website as options vary greatly according to where you live. We have researched and summarized grants available in several of the largest and most populated - and generous - states. Check them out if you live in one of these states or would consider moving there — or just to get an idea about the types of grants you could look for in your own state. The articles are Grants in California; Grants in New York; Grants in Texas; Grants in Florida; and Grants in Illinois.