How to Be Poor in America

Artwork: Robin Mead

Here is a long list of everything we 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 we have missed or forgotten a few (million) things. Please comment below with more ideas.


πŸ’  Learn more about how to get free or discounted taxi rides, bus fare, subway fare, amtrak rides, airport services, airline seats, parking, and other Transportation Assistance for People with Disabilities or Chronic Illness.

πŸ’  Wheelchair services in airports can be an incredible help:Β How to Wheel Around an Airport

πŸ’  Para-transit services are the bomb. In some areas they will take you door-to-door anywhere you want to go. They are really great in some places, and more difficult in others Learn more in the link above.


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, there are several waysΒ  you can Get Extra Help if You Are in a Medicaid Waiver Program. This might also be called Medi-cal or Medicaid Longterm Care or Home and Community Based Services.

πŸ’  If your disabling condition is very severe and a friend, loved one or family member is providing personal care for you, some caregiver programs will allow you to qualify for funding for the person who is caring for you now.

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


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: Food Stamps Regulations you might not know

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 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: 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’  If you can’t afford lab tests:Β  How to Get Free or Cheap Lab Tests

πŸ’  Sounds too good to be true. But it is true! Prescription eyeglass for $7. You have to know what your prescription is. Try to exercise a lot of self-control at check out. Uncheck all the boxes to add bells and whistles and just buy the basic glasses. $7. Really. Zenni Glasses.

πŸ’  Untested: If you can’t leave your house to get to the eye doc, for $40, this business says they offer online vision testing and prescriptions: Opternative


πŸ’ Β  If you need a wheelchair but can’t afford one: How to Get an Electric Wheelchair or Scooter Through Insurance

πŸ’  If you need other types of equipment: How to Get Medical Equipment


πŸ’  You may be eligible for home modifications even if you are a renter

πŸ’  Home modifications can include wheelchair ramps, widening doorways, installing grab bars, stair lifts, and other changes.

πŸ’  Some programs also provide basic home repairs, furnace replacements, and safety modifications.

πŸ’  Learn more How to Get Home Modifications


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’  Some companies offer low cost internet for people who are low-income. Programs vary by state. Some people report good experiences 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 some areas the social service agency offers free trash stickers. But they don’t tell you this. You just have to know to ask. They may also provide free air conditioners or house fans.

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’  If you are applying for assistance, you may need to fax things from time to time. Here’s an inexpensive way to fax that doesn’t involve leaving the house: Hello Fax


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’  Many Liheap programs have free weatherization services. They will evaluate your home and make free repairs and upgrades which can lower your utilities, improve your safety, and make you more comfortable.

πŸ’  Some areas provide free programmable thermostats. This can save you an average of $180/year in utility bills. Inquire at Liheap or your local energy assistance program.

πŸ’  Here’s a good list of 22 other ways to lower your utility bills.

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’  Many people with chronic illnesses start online fundraising to help pay medical or life expenses. Ironically, this can cause you to lose your Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, Medicare Savings Programs, utilities assistance, or subsidized housing. In some cases, there are safe ways to fundraise. Please take a look:Β How to Fundraise Without Losing Your Benefits


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’  Update: This is very easy to get in some places. Just say “I would like a disability pass for my caretaker.” That’s it!

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’  Is it your birthday? How to Live Like a King or Queen on Your Birthday for FREE


πŸ’  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  Please read this If There is Any Chance You Will Ever 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. You can apply for 90% of the things on this page.

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

πŸ’  If you were approved a while ago: Everything No One Ever Tells You About Living on Disability

πŸ’  In most situations, your check will be at least $735 per month ($890 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’  It is not easy to survive on SSI, but it is possible. Check out:Β How to Survive on SSI

πŸ’  If you are sent an overpayment notice or your check is being lowered: How To Deal with an Overpayment


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’  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’  Here’s a good guide to Requesting Disability Accommodations in your work place.


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 very few 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.



12 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.


  4. Do you have information on Hud or Low Income Housing on whether you are allowed to move from one state to another or one hud place to another hud location? Is it allowed?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are two kinds of HUD.

      One is housing vouchers (you get a voucher and use it wherever you want) and one is a HUD building (you apply to live in that one building).

      Which kind of HUD to you have?


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