Your Best Resources to Find Government Free Money
None of us want to be in a situation where we feel like we’re looking for “handouts” or like we can’t provide for ourselves and those in our care. Despite what politicians and those talking heads on TV like to repeat endlessly, very few people set out with a life goal of “milking the system” or “taking advantage.” It’s simply not how most of us are wired.
You know how it feels to work for something and succeed, whether that accomplishment was big or small. Getting the job, scoring the goal, or managing that home repair without starting a fire – success is often its own reward. Personally, I’m thrilled when I don’t burn the spaghetti – my goals are humble and my standards low.
Even faux accomplishments give us more of a rush than we’d like to admit. Remember the last time your favorite team beat that rival you despise so much? What about the high you get saving the princess from those scary turtles and mushrooms? None of us want to hold this up as our major life accomplishment, but the best games make us feel like we’re working for something and then achieving it. Heck, I know people who take days to recover from the highs or lows of who gave who a rose on a dating show.
Real Money, Real Talk
The fact is that we are hard-wired to enjoy challenges followed by eventual success. If we lack struggle in our life, we seek it out or create it. (Who creates the most drama at your workplace? Hint: it’s almost never the person whose life is actually difficult.) Is it possible there are a handful of people in the world who simply want to drift through, taking advantage of every shortcut and never wanting more? Sure – there are always a few of pretty much anything you might describe. But is that most people? More importantly, is that you?
No. It’s not. So let’s just get that out of the way right now. Period.
But to quote Cannonball Adderley, “Sometimes things don’t lay the way they’s ‘posed to lay.” In other words, sometimes stuff doesn’t work the way it should. And yes, when that happens, we may need a little “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” – at least for a time.
Help! (I Need Somebody)
Let’s assume that there are times we find ourselves unable to take care of absolute essentials – food, housing, transportation, or basic medical care. I don’t mean that it would be difficult to cover the proverbial $400 emergency, as one popular and oft-repeated report claims. I mean you can’t cover lunch, or get to work, or pay for your baby’s prescription. You need to find help, and now.
There are two basic sources for help outside of family and friends. One is what we’ll call “charitable organizations.” For our purposes, this will include everything from local churches to organizations like the United Way to the YMCA and everything in between. The other is what we’ll call “government free money.” I use the term partly to be defiant towards those critical voices I mentioned above, and partly to emphasize that these sources are public. They involve federal, state, or – most often – local government services of the sort we all pay taxes to support and have collectively decided are good for society as a whole. The “free” part means you’re not expected to repay the help.
In other words, these sources of assistance exist for a reason. They’re not dirty and shouldn’t be secret and don’t involve doing anything wrong. I hammer this point because I know it’s hard enough being in a position to NEED help. You don’t need anyone adding their own opinions about the system, the services, or yourself as a person.
Results May Vary
Before we dive in to more specifics, a disclaimer of sorts. The very nature of charitable organizations or government free money (government services) is that they vary from locale to locale, from city to city, and from state to state. The needs of inner city Los Angeles are very different from those of Southeastern Oklahoma. The services which are most effective in a blue-collar town whose factories have moved out may not accomplish the same things in a rural farming community suffering from drought.
In other words, we’re going to talk about things you should look into. Stuff that exists in many places in many different forms. In many cases, we’ll be focusing more on who to ask than exactly what sort of answers to expect. It will be on you to take the information and start asking questions. Don’t worry – we’ll talk about how to do that along the way as well.
First, though, what sorts of things might prompt you to seek government free money or assistance from charitable organizations? The nature of the need may determine the most effective places to star looking for help, but they overlap in so many cases that we’ll treat them all together.
Rental Assistance / Help With Utility Bills
Let’s start with one of the most common challenges of modern life – housing. In theory, common wisdom suggests we allow about 30% of our total income to pay rent or a house payment. That’s great on paper, but in reality we may have little choice but to commit far more than that just to have a place to live and raise our families. What can you do when you realize you simply can’t make rent and find yourself in danger of eviction? What are your options when you literally can’t keep the lights on?
Rental or utility assistance may not be paid to you directly as some of that “government free money,” but a paid electric bill is a paid electric bill, right? This is also one of the few areas in which you may find federal programs available as well as local options. This could definitely help you paying bills.
Health Care and Medical Emergencies
The dynamics of health care are a little different than trying to pay the rent or keep the lights on. For one thing, health conditions – especially serious ones – can be frightening as well as life-threatening. On the other hand, you may not need ongoing assistance so much as help with a specific problem or condition.
Most of us know that Emergency Rooms will take and treat just about anybody for just about anything, whether they can pay or not. There are certainly problems with this system, but at the moment they’re an option if nothing else works out. Expect long waits and paperwork and there’s no guarantee of just how much care you’ll receive, but if you have a real emergency, well… that is what they’re for.
Ask your local doctor’s office or state government representative about state-supported medical care. Most states have some form of insurance or coverage, although it usually means seeing “nurse practitioners” of “physician’s assistants” and you may experience longer waits. The quality of care may vary, but experience suggests that’s luck of the draw more than an issue with just how much doctor school the person caring for you has had.
Food and Groceries
This one is sometimes a little easier. Hopefully you’ve already looked into food stamps or whatever variation your state offers. Be ready for paperwork and bureaucracy and all the baggage that comes with government assistance. At the same time, you’ll probably get further by being polite, professional, and persistent than you will if you let yourself get frustrated or overly emotional.
There are also numerous organizations, religious and otherwise, which provide cooked meals, bags of groceries, or other direct help. Some ramp up during the holidays while others operate year-round. You’re less likely to be asked for extensive documentation or deal with government red tape, but how much is available when is entirely dependent on whoever’s supplying the food.
What used to be a luxury is now an essential. In the 21st century, a cell phone is almost required to get a job, connect with your kids’ school, or communicate effectively with pretty much anyone. They also double as mini-computers, giving us access to the internet and essential information.
There are numerous providers for “free cell phones.” Depending on your income, they may be entirely free or require a minimal monthly commitment. Check out several before you decide. If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of an offer, walk away.
Where Should I Begin?
So, you’ve accepted that you’re going to need a little help – at least temporarily. And what’s available is going to vary widely with where you are and the details of your situation. You probably have a few ideas where to start, but there are probably more options than you realize for government free money, charitable organizations, or other sources of support.
First, do what you’re doing now. The internet is many things, not all of them entirely helpful, but at the moment it’s absolutely the best place to start for gathering information – especially when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. A Google search for “rental assistance South Bend Indiana” brought up several promising leads on the first page.
The First: “Housing Assistance Office”
The first was something called the “Housing Assistance Office”, which upon further poking turns out to be a local government service for nearby Mishawaka.
The Second: “South Bend Housing Authority”
The “South Bend Housing Authority” was second, and took me to a website which I wouldn’t have otherwise identified as a source of help, but upon closer perusal is clearly designed for just that purpose.
The Third: Catholic Charities
The third was Catholic Charities which falls under “charitable organizations” and has the advantage of being both well-known and traditionally quite non-threatening. Immediately following that was a rental assistance site that seems to connect you to both help of the “government free money” variety and privately funded options. All you do is give them a little info and they’ll do the searching, no matter where you happen to live.
There were more, but you get the idea. I didn’t call the Housing Authority or fill out the form for rental assistance, and I’m not vouching for any particular site or source of assistance. My point is that sometimes we overlook the most obvious place to start – the same internet you’re using right now to gather information. At the same time, this is still the internet. Let the web-surfer beware! Under no circumstances should you give payment information or anything too specific or personal to any site on the web no matter what they promise you. I know you know this, but I also know that sometimes when times are particularly stressful, we get careless.
Be determined instead.
Whether they come up on your search results or not, your local city-county government (or borough, or parish, or township, etc.) should be able to tell you what services are available in your area. It’s a fundamental function of local government, even if that function consists of telling you that they don’t have those sorts of services in your area.
Keep in mind that although we’re calling it “government free money,” these are services we’ve collectively decided are good for society – not just for you, not just for me, not just for some, but for all of us. Like police protection, fire departments, paved roads, and public schools, government help with rent or utilities is an agreed-upon function of the community. In exchange, they may require you to attend financial wellness programs or similar programs.
Here’s something your mama probably told you a hundred times back in the day – you won’t know until you ask. It may be uncomfortable. You may feel unsure whether or not you’re talking to the right person or saying the right thing. And yes, it’s possible some of the folks you talk to won’t be particularly helpful or friendly. None of that matters. What matters is that you’re going to ask.
It might help to write down 2 or 3 bullet points for yourself of exactly what you want to say. Avoid unnecessary details and emotion if possible and stick to the basics. “My name is _____ and I’m in a situation where I’m not sure I can pay my rent. I have ____ kids and I’m worried about what’s going to happen if we lose our home. I’m hoping you might be able to point me to some options in this area.” That sort of thing. Be polite, but keep your head up even on the phone. You’re not doing anything wrong.
Local Charitable Organizations and Community Agencies
You probably don’t have to go far to find a local United Way office, or the Salvation Army, or other recognizable “name brand” agency. Not all of these groups do everything, but any United Way office, for example, knows what services are out there in the surrounding community and who to connect you with to find whatever sort of assistance you need. Some agencies get very creative finding ways to make things happen for individuals in tough situations. They’re also excellent sources for education and training, including free financial advice.
Best of all, this is what everyone there signed up for. Whether they provide direct help or not, they all chose careers aimed at helping people like you in situations like yours. So ask.
Churches and Other Faith Organizations
You’ll find a pretty wide range of reactions with this one. Some churches have entire departments dedicated to this sort of community service, while others may be caught completely off-guard to even be asked. But one consistent element of a faith organization, whatever its orientation, is that it probably wants to serve those in need. If that’s you, it’s absolutely worth asking.
Realize, though, that these aren’t public institutions in the governmental sense. It’s entirely up to them if or how they help. It’s very unlikely their approach will be anything like the government free money you may encounter from other sources. Some may require you to attend services, or counseling, or otherwise “plug in” to their organization. It’s up to you whether or not to accept, of course, but don’t be offended or surprised. They may simply have a different idea of what true “help” involves.
Your Child’s School
If you have kids in school, particularly if it’s your local public school, chances are good there are people there who specifically deal with a range of student needs including some of those you’re dealing with right now. In some cases, this may mean little more than a few extra forms to make sure your child can get a reasonably healthy breakfast in addition to a daily school lunch. On the other hand, many districts network with a variety of community supports to provide (or try to provide) full wraparound services – at least for the student, and sometimes for the entire family.
Start with your child’s counselor or favorite teacher, although you can sometimes simply ask whoever answers the phone. Understand that public educators aren’t particularly interested in judging your life choices – they want to help your child learn. Most will be thrilled you’ve reached out, because no one who’s been in the education system for any length of time has any doubt about the connection between nutrition and educational success, or between having a coat and coming to school every day. They want your child to get those glasses, that checkup, those counseling services. Some are quite creative figuring out how to help make that happen.
That’s not exactly government free money, but the root of everything we’re talking about here is figuring out how to take care of yourself and your family. Coats and dental checkups are huge when it comes to that sort of thing, yes?
Oh, and none of them care about your immigration or other legal status issues. They really don’t. It’s a rare school in 2019 that doesn’t have at least one or two staff members who speak any language found in the community. Don’t be afraid, and don’t be embarrassed. They want the same things you do, I assure you.
Your Local Library
This is another option for which results may vary. By and large, however, libraries in the 21st century are determinedly trying to serve the widest possible range of people with whatever minimal resources they’re given. Being librarians, that means information is the name of the game.
The library is unlikely to provide most services directly, although they are traditionally quite popular with some segments of the population as temperatures outside drop each year. They are very likely to know who in your area provides what sort of assistance, and may even help you reach out and initiate contact. They’ll know where to start looking for some of that government free money, where to find shelter, where to find food, etc. If they don’t know, they’ll know who does know. It’s what they do.
Once again, the key is to ask.
Personalities like Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman can be useful sources of information or inspiration when it comes to wisely saving or using your money, but they’re not really focused on what to do when you don’t have any to begin with.
You may recognize the name “Matthew Lesko,” although you probably know him better as the crazy guy in the question mark suit (not the green one who fights Batman – a different crazy guy in a question mark suit). Among other things, he’s known for his extensive list of “free money” tips and ways to get your hands on that government free money. As with so many things, some people swear his advice is life-changing while others think he’s either delusional or dishonest.
There’s nothing to be lost in reading or listening to what he has to say, but keep in mind that he’s still a crazy guy in a question mark suit. Take it for what it’s worth.
Is A Personal Loan An Option?
If your circumstances are temporary, you may be able to address some of your needs with a personal loan. This allows you to avoid the headaches and complications of government free money or charitable organizations, and some of us feel better knowing that we’ll soon be repaying what we’re given.
There are many options for these sorts of loans, from local banks or credit unions to storefronts and payday loans to online lenders of all varieties. What’s available to you will largely depend on your credit history, with traditional banks being the most conservative. At the other end of the spectrum are payday loans and other “quickie cash” offers, which tend to charge huge fees and outrageous interest. It’s difficult to imagine many situations in which these are a good idea.
There are numerous online lenders who specialize in short-term loans, loans for bad credit, loans to consolidate bills or help you pay the rent or whatever else you may be needing. At Loanry, we pride ourselves on connecting you with legitimate online lenders who want to compete for your business, whatever your situation. It may turn out what they’re offering isn’t for you, but there’s only one way to find out – and that’s something we can help with.
You should also check out this piece from my colleague Brandy Woodfolk on “Small Dollar Loans” and several popular lenders who specialize in them. Again, these may not be the right path for you, but you won’t know until you learn more.
Conclusion: Moving Forward
As we discussed at the beginning, few of us have the goal or relying on others long-term. It may take a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years, but most of us want very much to get back into a position where we can pay our own rent, buy our own food, and clothe our own kids. As you work towards that, there may be ways to supplement your income creatively (and legally) which you haven’t considered.
For example, do you have a skill someone might want to learn or teach their kids? Do you make things other folks might buy? Can you write or design graphics on a freelance basis? You might be surprised what you have to offer that you haven’t thought of. Check out this Guide to Making Money When Times Are Tough – you won’t regret it.
Finally, know that you will get yourself back on top again. You may not end up rich or ever feel as comfortable as you’d like, but you’ll be taking care of yourself and those you love. When that happens, rather than allow anyone – including yourself – to make you feel awkward or ashamed of accepting government free money or other help when you needed it, look for ways to “pay it forward.” Help a friend. Be encouraging. Volunteer.
We all need a little help sometimes.
Blaine Koehn is a former small business manager, long-time educator, and seasoned consultant. He’s worked in both the public and private sectors while riding the ups-and-downs of self-employment and independent contracting for nearly two decades. His self-published resources have been utilized by thousands of educators as he’s shared his experiences and ideas in workshops across the Midwest. Blaine writes about money management and decision-making for those new to the world of finance or anyone simply sorting through their fiscal options in complicated times.