How to Be Poor in America

tequila-sunrise-robin-mead-1
Art: Robin Mead

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.

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

MEDICAL EQUIPMENT

💠  If you need a wheelchair: How to Get an Electric Wheelchair or Scooter Through Insurance

💠 If you don’t have insurance: How to Pay for Medical Equipment Without Insurance

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

HOME MODIFICATIONS

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

💠 Home modifications can include wheelchair ramps, widening doorways, installing grab bars, stair lifts, and other changes. Some programs also provide basic home repairs, furnace replacements, and safety modifications. Learn more How to Get Free Home Modifications

💠 Many areas also have programs that provide free modifications to make homes more energy efficient. Here’s a great story from someone who got $18,000 in energy-efficiency improvements.

HOUSING

💠 There are many excellent programs that provide affordable housing: How to Find Open Waiting Lists for Affordable Housing

💠 Section 8 Housing is the key to financial survival and stability for many people people with disabilities. Section 8 Guide for the Plucky and Disabled

💠 Did someone tell you that all low-income housing are rat-infested hovels of misery? Not true! Can Affordable Housing Be Nice? (See for yourself)

💠 If you are looking to make a big and interesting change in your life, learn more about How to Join an Intentional Community.

💠 Not available everywhere. It’s sometimes possible to find help with security deposits, utility deposits, pet fees, application fees: How to Escape Move-In Fees

ALREADY IN HOUSING?

💠 You may find it helpful to learn How to Calculate (and sometimes lower) rent in Affordable Housing

💠  Also check out: Section 8 Secrets for People with Disabilities

MEDICAL TRANSPORT

🌷 Going to the doctor: How to Get Free Local Transportation to Your Doctor 

🌷 Going to the doctor long distance (planes, trains, hotels): How to Get Free Long Distance Transportation to Your Doctor

OTHER TRANSPORT

💠 Most cities and some rural areas have paratransit programs that offer low-cost, door-to-door transportation for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses How to Apply for Paratransit

🌷 If your disability makes walking difficult: How to Get a Disability Parking Placard

💠 Not available everywhere. In some cases, it’s possible to get small amounts of Help with Car Expenses

💠 Airport wheelchair services: How to Wheel Around an Airport

💠 Learn more about how to get free or discounted Transportation Assistance for People with Disabilities or Chronic Illness.

HOME AIDES

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

💠 State home aide programs are the most common home care programs our readers participate in. These programs provide free aides and other services to help people stay out of nursing homes. How To Apply for a State Home Aide

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

ALREADY HAVE A CAREGIVER?

💠 If your disabling condition is severe and a friend, loved one, or family member is already providing personal care for you, in some situations, state home aide programs will allow you to qualify for funding for salary for the person who is caring for you now.

💠 If you are in a home aide program through Medicaid or Medi-cal program, 15 Secrets for People in Medicaid Home Aide Program.

💠 If you are living with someone who is providing care for you (paid or unpaid), check out: Ten Secrets for People with Live-In Caregivers

FOOD

💠 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

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

💠 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.

💠 Can’t leave the house? How to Get Groceries Delivered with SNAP Food Stamps

MEDICAL

💠 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

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

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

💠 If you can’t afford a doctor: How to Get to the Doctor When You Can’t Get to the Doctor

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

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

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

💠 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.

💠There are some online vision services that allow you to complete an eye exam and get a prescription online for free or low cost. Also try 1-800-ContactsOpternative and Simple Contacts.

CASH ASSISTANCE

💠 Some areas offer small amounts of cash assistance in certain situations: How to Get State Cash Assistance

ANIMALS

💠 Programs that offer assistance with vet bills.

💠 Emotional Support Animal –  If you have an emotional support animal, in some types of housing, you will not be charged pet fees and pet deposits. In certain types of housing, food and vet bills can be declared as a medical expense. Learn About Emotional Support Animals

💠 Trained Service Animals – Different than emotional support animals. Service animals are trained (including psychiatric service dogs).  Same housing rules listed above. In addition, food and vet bills can also be declared as a medical expense for food stamps.

HOMELESSNESS

💠 If you have a mental health diagnosis and history of homelessness, some of our readers report that Supportive Housing programs are GREAT! We can’t seem to find any kind of national link. Try googling the name of your state or city and the words “Supportive Housing” or “Supported Housing.”

💠 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.

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

COMMUNICATIONS

💠 Some companies offer low cost internet for people who are low-income. Programs vary by state. Good News! $10 Internet! For Real!

💠 Some low income internet programs will not approve anyone who was an existing customer in the past 90 days. If you get caught in this loophole, here’s some ideas to get out: Comcast Internet Essentials & The 90 Day Waiting Period

💠 Here’s How To Get a Free Phone If you are hearing impaired, you can also get free amplified phone equipment (see tedpa.org)

💠 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

HOUSEHOLD

💠 In some areas the social service agency that administer food stamps also 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.

💠 You can get a discount on amazon prime if you have Food Stamps or Medicaid.

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

UTILITIES

💠 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. Also check out this great article on Discounts from Power Companies.

💠 Your local social services agency offers utilities assistance through Liheap. In some areas, they three different utility programs: Winter, Summer, and Emergency. If you need all three, make sure to apply for all three. For example, if you apply for winter, you still have to put in another application for summer.

💠 If your utilities are included in your rent, you may still be eligible for Liheap. However, rules vary by state.

💠 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.

💠  If you are a renter, you may still be eligible for the free Liheap weatherization. Inquire with the program in your area.

💠 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.

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

💠 If you are living with a caregiver or live-in aide, they will not count the aide’s salary, so you may be more likely to qualify. More information about how to do this is on this page: How to Get Extra Benefits and Help if You Have a Live-In Aide

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

💠 In California, there are several different PG&E programs you can apply for, including one called “Medical Baseline Allowance” Story from a reader: “I was able to get a permanent reduction in my city Gas & Electric bill by providing a doctors note indicating that I had heat sensitivity due to ME/CFS. There were no income specifications. Just a medical necessity.”

FUNDRAISING

💠 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: How to Fundraise Without Losing Your Benefits

RECREATION

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

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

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

💠 Update #2: Some of our readers report they were able to request free admission for an aide or caregiver by asserting that this was a reasonable accommodation for a person with disabilities under the ADA. The laws on this are not perfectly clear, but here is more information from a disability rights group: Personal Assistants and the ADA and here’s a Court Case About Personal Assistants

💠 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.

💠 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.

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

DISABILITY BENEFITS

💠 Here’s How to Apply for Social Security Disability

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

DISABILITY: BEFORE APPLYING

💠  Please read this If There is Any Chance You Will Ever Apply for Disability…

DISABILITY: WHILE APPLYING

💠 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.

💠 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.

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

💠 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

💠 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

DISABILITY: AFTER APPROVAL

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

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

💠 In most situations, your check will be at least $750 per month ($910 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?

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

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

DEBT

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

💠 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

💠 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

WORKING

💠 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

💠 Here’s a guide to Requesting Disability Accommodations in your workplace.

💠 Common question from our readers: How Do I Prove That I Am Really Disabled for Workplace Accommodations?

💠 The Pajama Daze ideas for jobs you can do in your pajamas.

FACEBOOK GROUPS

💠 Social Service Connections for Lyme Disease

💠 Sleepy Girl Guide Social Security Disability

💠 Affordable Housing / Section 8 for People with Disabilities

APPLYING FOR… ANYTHING

💠 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.

💠 24 Magic Sentences That Can Change a “No” to a “Yes”

💠 How to Have a Good, Helpful, Pleasant, Reasonably Successful Phone Call With a Social Service Agency

💠 Never Take No for an Answer Over the Phone

💠 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

TAXES

💠 Many cities and counties offer real estate tax relief for the elderly or disabled and other programs to reduce property taxes. Learn About Property Tax Relief

💠 There are quite a few more tax breaks you may wish to look into. How to Get Tax Breaks for Disabilities

💠 If you are planning a withdrawal from your 401k or pension plan: How to Avoid Penalties from Retirement Plan Early Withdrawals

JANE AND SALLY

💠 Sally is low-income and disabled. She is unable to care for herself and has no family to help her. Many people in Sally’s situation wind up in state nursing homes or institutions. Luckily, Sally found a better way. By learning about different services available, Sally is able to live in her own apartment, have the care she needs, and afford to cover all her expenses. How does she do it? Meet Jane and Sally

MORE

💠 Low Income Relief – Great resource. Please take a look.

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

💠 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.

WHAT ARE WE MISSING?

💠 Please comment on the bottom of this page. Tell us everything we don’t know about and everything that is missing from this list. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.

💠 Updated Sept 2019

37 thoughts on “How to Be Poor in America”

  1. This is great and you have done such a great service! This whole site is such a boon. It seems like everywhere expects you are the rich relative of a poor disabled person, and writes from that perspective. Just being spoken to clearly and with respect feels so…important . Thank you.

    On the housing part, do you know what to do if you have property you can no longer afford? Especially regarding selling a house you live in while on SSI, without losing your benefits? I have searched around on here and haven’t found anything!

    Like

    1. Hi Kimball,

      Thank you for this beautiful comment.

      I think the options for selling a house are:

      a. use the money to buy a new house. the new house must be purchased within three months. that’s SSI, I’m not sure how it would impact other benefit programs.

      b. accept the money as income (lose SSI for one month) and then put the funds in a trust or able account or spend it. Don’t give it away: https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/options-and-next-steps-if-you-go-over-the-ssi-resource-limit/

      c. I’ve heard people say you can put the house in a trust and then the trust can sell it, I’m not sure if that’s true.

      if you’re looking into trusts, you’d want to consult with a special needs lawyer.

      I hope this helps.

      Like

    1. There isn’t a specific page for that. Most of the information would apply equally to people who are self-employed or who had an employer. I hope things go well for your friend.

      Like

  2. WOW!!! What a whirlwind of knowledge you are Ms. Lady!!! AND THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! How to live poor in America, the headline caught my eye & I just had to read it. I was flabbergasted at the amount of information you provided. My lifetime partner is on disability, and has undiagnosed mental health issues, one being feat of abandonment, so me working has not exactly worked out . A family of four living on one disability check has been Extremely hard especially when we have been unaware of some of your great ideas on your blog here. I am so excited to start working some of these, yeah I have work, I have purpose. I can’t thank you enough sleepy girl, I think you may just have changed my life.💜💜💜

    Like

  3. Regarding how to prove you have no income:

    If you’re on SSA, SSI, or SSDI, you get a letter every year telling you what your monthly amount will be for the year. If you don’t have the letter, you can print one on their website http://www.ssa.gov.

    If you get food stamps, you can get a letter from SNAP, or the Division of Transitional Services. (This is not usually counted as income, but most organizations will consider it proof of low income.).

    If you have a Section 8 Housing Voucher, the annual renewal letter can also be used to prove low income.

    You can get a letter of “no filing status” from IRS

    Good luck!

    Like

  4. Your guide is fantastic! One thing I would love to see from you: how to prove you’re poor when you can’t prove you’re poor. A lot of social services and financial aid requires you to show pay stubs and the like. What if you don’t have a job at all?

    Like

    1. Hi Luna,

      This is an excellent point. I do not know the answer, maybe someone else will see this question and have an idea.

      Have you tried telling them you have no income? I wonder if they have a statement you can sign verifying this?

      Like

  5. I am in PA and on SSDI. I used the Holmestead exemption to reduce my home owner taxes. I obtained a 1% loan for weatherization which got me new windows, a new furnace & a new roof. I used the basic home repair for disabled persons and had my bathroom gutted and redone (floors, walls, walk in shower, toilet, cabinet & vanity sink, and grab bars) for free. They also did a washer dryer hook up in my guest room that is next to the bathroom. I received a shower seat and guard railing going from the first to the second floor. All at no cost.

    Many cities have pet food pantries to help pet owners care for their pets. In Philadelphia there ACCT Philly, and Citizens for No Kill.

    I am currently looking for dental services that won’t cost a million dollars.

    Like

  6. Thank you! I recently began receiving SSDI although I’ve suffered from multiple chronic conditions for the past decade. It is rather a steep learning curve to know what to do and how to make ends meet given my new life circumstance. Do you have any insights or resources on how to marry someone who holds citizenship outside the US? I have yet to find information on how to start my life with my love given my financial situation though could really really use his support and help through these challenges.

    Like

    1. I’m sorry this is a topic I really don’t know anything about. Do you know if you are on SSI or SSDI? For SSI there are some special considerations for marriage. I do hope you will be able to be with your love soon.

      Like

  7. What beautiful, uplifting artwork!
    I’ve been on food stamps a while but even so, I learned many new things here! Amazing… Thank you very much!

    Like

  8. There’s an online contact lenses retailer that gives you a two week trial for free. They ask that you pay $3.99 for the shipping, and then they set up a subscription, but you can delay or cancel any month’s shipment through their website. You can also cancel your subscription (and therefore get a couple weeks worth of lenses) by calling them. The following is from their website, under Manage Your Subscription:

    “To cancel, call 1-844-334-1640 between 9AM and 6PM,
    EST M-F, and between 9AM and 2PM Saturdays (excluding holidays).”

    Personally, I’m dyslexic, and when I was adding my information to my order, I messed up and typed in my street address wrong. They had the option to correct it but I also reached out to customer service as well just in case. I received a reply exactly 6 hours later (emailed them at 9:07 PM and the reply came in at 3:07 AM).

    I would especially suggest this to those who have been in for an eye exam lately and are waiting on glasses to be made, if you have your prescription, and contact info for your optometrist so they can confirm information, they will help you out. If you can wear them then you are golden. Sometimes a small stop gap is better than nothing! 😉

    Like

  9. Wow, what am AMAZING JOB you’ve done here. I consider myself a pretty well-informed person, and there are many things here that are new to me. You rock! And, I really like the artwork.

    Like

  10. 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?

      Like

  11. 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.

    Like

  12. 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.

      Like

    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!

      Like

  13. 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

    Like

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