How to Be Poor in America


Robin Mead

Here is a long list of everything I know in the world about how to be poor and disabled and still (most of the way) alive.

It may please you to learn that you do not need to be on disability to qualify for most of the programs on this page.

Some programs will have a form your doctor can sign and some programs do not need disability proof and are available to anyone who is low-income.

No doubt I have missed or forgotten a few (million) things. Please comment below with more ideas.


πŸ’  If you were turned down for food stamps, or if you are not getting enough food stamps to make it through the month, there are some special regs that may help you out: How to Get Enough Food Stamps to Actually Eat

πŸ’  Many areas have food banks that offer free groceries. National food bank directory.

πŸ’  Meals on Wheels and other home meal programs offer free or low cost meals in many areas. Some programs are restricted to seniors, but others will serve anyone who is homebound or has difficulty leaving their home. Contact your local area agency on aging and they can hook you up.


πŸ’  If you are on Medicaid, they can offer free taxis or transport to doctor appointments.

πŸ’  Para-transit services are the bomb. At least the one in my area is really great. And really cheap. Learn more about paratransit and other transportation programs: How To Get a Transport for People with Disabilities

πŸ’  Amtrak gives a 15% discount to people with disabilities, plus a traveling companion.

πŸ’  If you are traveling by plane check out: How to Wheel Around an Airport

πŸ’  Some areas offer transportation discounts to people with disabilities: ID cards, driver’s licenses, bus and subway fares, and parking. Inquire with your local transit authority and your local Department of Motor Vehicles.


πŸ’  Some companies offer low cost internet for people who are low-income. Programs vary by state. I have met people who were very happy with AT&T Access, though it is not available in all states. The other programs vary, some are good deals and some are not worth it. List of programs offering this service.

πŸ’  In my area, the social service agency offers free trash stickers. But they don’t tell you this. You just have to know to ask. Do they do this other places? Please let me know.

πŸ’  Don’t learn this the hard way like I did. Here’s How To Get a Free Phone That Doesn’t SuckΒ If you are hearing impaired, you can also get free amplified phone equipment (see

πŸ’  Most communities have other programs that help low-income people. Dial 2-1-1 on your phone and ask what is available.


πŸ’  Many utility companies, including electric, gas, phone, water and trash services offer discounts to customers who are disabled, elderly or low income. Contact your utility company and ask.

πŸ’  Your local social services agency offers utilities assistance through Liheap. Many programs offer three different utility programs: Winter, Summer, and Emergency. If you need all three, apply three times every year.

πŸ’  If you are living with a caregiver, they will not count the caregiver’s salary. This is an obscure little rule that your Liheap caseworker probably won’t know. You’ll need to research it and point it out. If you got turned down in the past, try again using this rule. It works!

πŸ’  Most communities have other programs that help low-income people with utilities. Dial 2-1-1 on your phone and ask what is available.


πŸ’  If you are in need of a caregiver, and cannot afford one, check out:Β How to Get a Caregiver to see if there are any programs in your area.

πŸ’  If you are living with someone who is providing care for you, check out: How to Get Extra Help if You Have a Live-In Caregiver

πŸ’  If you are paying for a caregiver through a Medicaid program, and your caregiver lives with you, they can save a lot of money by filing for a difficulty of care income tax exclusion. There are several other ways you can Get Extra Help if You Are in a Medicaid Waiver Program

πŸ’  If your disabling condition is very severe and a friend, loved one or family member is providing personal care for you, you may be able to qualify for funding for the person who is already caring for you.

πŸ’  If you are homebound, check out How To Be Homebound for other ideas for at-home services.


πŸ’  If you are on Medicare, you may be charged a lot of co-pays for medical visits, plus your disability check will be lowered by about $100 per month to pay Medicare premiums. Don’t worry, you have options. How to Escape Medicare Fees

πŸ’  If you are having trouble qualifying for Medicaid: How To Get On Medicaid Even if You Can’t Get On Medicaid

πŸ’  Also check out:Β How to Respond When You Are Told You Can’t Get Medicaid

πŸ’  If you can’t afford a doctor or lab tests: How to Get to the Doctor When You Can’t Get to the Doctor

πŸ’  If you can’t afford meds or supplements: How To Be Broke & Medicated

πŸ’  If you can’t afford the dentist:Β How to Go to the Dentist When You Can’t Afford to Go to the Dentist


πŸ’  There are many excellent programs that provide affordable housing if you are willing to be patient and persistent check out: How To Get Cheap Rent.

πŸ’  Many more ideas for finding affordable or comfortable housing for people with chronic illness: Housing Tips For Spoonies

πŸ’  If you are working, you can save money to buy a first house or start a small business in an IDA. It is matching program. Every time you put in one dollar, they put in one dollar. If you are on SSI, and IDA can also keep your disability check from being reduced, but you have to make sure you apply for the right type of IDA program. Please research.


πŸ’  You may not know all of these Special Rent Rules for HUD, Section 8 and USDA Housing


πŸ’  If you have a mental health diagnosis and history of homelessness, many Supportive Housing programs are GREAT!!! I can’t seem to find any kind of national link, so I don’t know what to tell you here. Try googling the name of your state or city and the words “Supportive Housing” or “Supported Housing.”

πŸ’  If you have a mental health diagnosis and you are currently homeless or at risk for becoming homeless, contact The Amazing SOAR Program to see if they are in your area. They can help get disability applications approved quickly for people who are homeless and disabled.

πŸ’  Many other places have already created lists of homeless resources, so no need to reinvent the wheel: HUD Links


πŸ’  National parks give free lifetime passes to people on disability. America The Beautiful Access Pass

πŸ’  Many movie theaters, museums, and parks allow an caregiver to get in free if you are in a wheelchair (ask)

πŸ’  Many parks, zoos, amusement parks, beaches, fishing licenses, and other recreational activities offer disability discounts. Some of these places also offer special parking areas and other accommodations (such as reduced wait time for lines). Be sure to inquire at Guest Services/Relations before you go. And always ask about available discounts because many parks don’t publicize them.

πŸ’  If you are disabled, the Library of Congress will send you free books on tape. Back in the days before internet, I used to love this service more than anything. Now it seems kind of quaint and obscure.


πŸ’  If you are here reading this, I am assuming you are already on disability, or already applying for disability. But maybe I am wrong! Here’s How to Apply for Social Security Disability

πŸ’  Social Security is not the only game in town. Here’s How to Apply for Other Kinds of Disability


πŸ’ Β  How to Protect Yourself if Your Employer Offers LTD

πŸ’ Β  How to Decide: Apply Right Now or Wait and See?

πŸ’  How to Decide: Reduce My Hours? Change Jobs? Apply for Disability?


πŸ’  Many people (wrongly!!!) think that they cannot get any help until after they are approved for Social Security. No, no, no. There are bunches of other things you can apply for.

πŸ’  If you are willing to plan ahead, be creative and reach out for help, there are many more ways to survive while applying for disability.

πŸ’  If you are applying for SSI, the way you are living right now can cause your check to go up or down later:Β How to Apply for SSI Without Falling into Quicksand

πŸ’  Most disability applications take two to three years. If you can get approved quicker, this will help you in all the ways you already know it will help you: How to Greatly, Greatly (Greatly!) Improve Your Disability Application

πŸ’  It’s a great idea to collect your medical records yourself. Here’s How to Get Your Medical Records Without Paying an Arm and a Leg


πŸ’  In most situations, your check will be at least $735 per month ($880 in California). If you think your check id lower then it should be, there may be a solution. Check out: How Come My Check is So Low?

πŸ’  If you are on SSDI, hopefully you have already done this, but just in case…. You can collect extra benefits for your kids (including kids who don’t live with you) and sometimes for the parents of your kids. Important: This will not happen automatically. You must sign them up. I have seen people throw away $10,000+ by not knowing they could do this.

πŸ’  If you are on SSI, please please please learnΒ How to Stay Out of Hot Water with SSI. It will save you a world of heartache down the road.

πŸ’  It is not easy to survive on SSI, but it is possible. Check out:Β How to Survive on SSI

πŸ’  Pause for station identification: SSI and SSDI are different programs. If you don’t know what you are on, look here: How to Tell What You’re On

πŸ’  If you are sent an overpayment notice or if your Social Security check is lowered because of overpayment, you have the right to appeal or request a waiver: How To Deal with an Overpayment

πŸ’  If you were approved recently:Β Everything No One Ever Tells You After You Get Approved

πŸ’  If you were approved a while ago: 56 Things You Might Not Know and Might Want to Know If You Are On Social Security Disability


πŸ’  There are several good options for escaping student loans: How to Escape the Crushing Weight of Student Loans

πŸ’  It may please you to know there are special rules in place that protect people on Social Security from debt collectors: How To Protect Your Social Security Check

πŸ’  Most debt collectors cannot take your Social Security money no matter what they tell you and no matter what they do: Who Can Take My Social Security Check?

πŸ’  If you are poor or disabled and paying debt from credit cards, medical bills, or other places, it’s good to know your options: How To Deal with Debt


πŸ’  If you are on disability, you are allowed to work and there are programs that can help you with working. There are also problems that can happen from working. Here’s the low down on How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

πŸ’  The Pajama Daze list of jobs you can do in your pajamas.


πŸ’  No matter what you apply for, you will almost certainly be told “no” at some point. Sometimes this no is correct. Very often it is not.

πŸ’  Magic words that turn no into yes: What to Say When Someone Tells You β€œNo” or β€œNot Possible” or β€œYou Don’t Qualify”

πŸ’  If someone is not following the policies or a mistake gets made, this is a good time to discover How To Get Help from Your Congressperson


πŸ’  Most cities and counties offer real estate tax relief for the elderly or disabled. Some also offer rent relief. Check with your local government tax and property assessors office.

πŸ’  Here are a few regs for How to Get Tax Breaks for Disabilities


πŸ’  Need Help Paying Bills is a fantabulous site for everything in the world. But it is slightly outdated and some programs no longer exist. Also, weirdly, it includes almost no website links. If you see a program you are interested in: Google.

πŸ’  HUD Links to food banks, diaper banks, AIDS/HIV housing, homeless services and more

πŸ’  Medic Alert Bracelets are available for free to people who are low income. These can help you get better care and faster access to medical information in an emergency.


πŸ’  Please comment on the bottom of this page. Tell us everything we don’t know about and everything that is missing from this list.



10 thoughts on “How to Be Poor in America”

  1. This is an amazing guide for any of you living in poverty, or disabled without family help. I’m bookmarking this post to return to as I navigate poverty and disability. You’ve done so much work to help so many people


    1. Why thank you Dr. Martin.

      I got my first piece of hate mail last week, so now I’ve been afraid to click on the comments. But this is not hate mail at all!



  2. Thank you! We truly live in a most wonderful country, at a truly amazing time in human kind’s history. I give thanks to the Lord for you and the generosity of your careful research for many, many others….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this beautiful comment. I am not patriotic, but I often feel very grateful to live in a time in history and part of the world where services are available for people who are poor and disabled. I think that if I lived at another time or in another place I probably would not have survived.


  3. Wow.. I’m impressed! Thank you for the time you put into getting all the pages of information together. I will be sharing the link and bookmarking this page. As for the hate mail, please disregard the bitter or angry. They may one day live to be in such a position as to actually need a hand up. Life has a funny way of serving up humble pie.. cold.


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