|SNAP||Must meet state guidelines|
|WIC||Women: Pregnant, breastfeeding, or due in under six months Children: Under 5 years old Must meet additional WIC requirements|
|NSLP, SBP, and SFSP||Less than 130% of poverty guidelines = free meals 130% to 185% of poverty guidelines = reduced-price meals|
|Seniors||60 or older and must meet state guidelines|
COVID-19 Food Program Waivers
The USDA has granted states flexibility with the administration of several food programs during the coronavirus emergency. This flexibility includes:
Additional coronavirus-related steps taken by the USDA include:
Six major government healthcare programs provide medical coverage for low-income and older Americans, children, veterans, and those who have recently lost their jobs.
Medicare is the main healthcare option for those 65 and older. If you are still working and covered by employer health insurance when you are three months away from your 65th birthday, discuss your Medicare options and requirements with your human resources office. You can also consult Applying for Medicare only on the Social Security website. If you are applying for Social Security and Medicare simultaneously, use the link under Social Security below.
ACA Health Insurance Marketplace
Healthcare.gov is home to the Health Insurance Marketplace, created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an Obama administration program designed to provide affordable health insurance to uninsured Americans. Anyone who doesn’t have health insurance can obtain coverage through the Marketplace. Those who fall below certain income limits can receive subsidies that lower the cost of coverage.
Normally, the Marketplace has an annual enrollment period to obtain or change coverage. However, as part of President Biden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a special enrollment period from Feb. 15, 2021, to May 15, 2021, during which any individual could obtain coverage through the Marketplace. Furthermore, they may be able to receive a special tax credit, which would lower the plan’s premium.
Medicaid and CHIP
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are related but have slightly different requirements. Medicaid is for low-income families and individuals. CHIP is for dependents under age 19 whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to pay for private health insurance coverage.
Both programs are federally funded in part and run at the state level. Each state has its own rules but must follow federal guidelines. You can apply for Medicaid and CHIP through the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace or through your state Medicaid agency.
Veterans Administration healthcare
The primary criteria to receive VA healthcare benefits require that you be a military veteran or former member of the National Guard or Reserve who served on active duty and was not dishonorably discharged. Specific eligibility depends on when you served and for how long. The rules are complicated but well explained on the VA’s eligibility webpage.
Coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is mandated by federal law for employees (and their dependents) when they lose their job or experience a reduction in work hours. One huge downside to COBRA coverage is the cost. When you lose your job, whatever your employer paid toward your health insurance goes away, and you have to pay the entire amount.
However, thanks to the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, if you lost your coverage during the coronavirus pandemic, you can qualify for up to six months free of COBRA coverage. After Sept. 30, 2021, however, you will need to pay the full premium to keep the COBRA plan.
Pros of Government Healthcare Programs
- Improve public health
- Stop medical bankruptcies for vulnerable populations
- Boost the economy due to savings
- Human rights issue
Cons of Government Healthcare Programs
- Increases government debt
- Potential for abuse
- Reduces competition
- Long wait times for service
State Health Department Programs
State health departments offer programs in addition to those available at the federal level. Use the USA.gov state health departments link to find out what is offered in your state, information about eligibility requirements, and how to apply.
The primary government retirement programs are Social Security for most citizens 65 and over who qualify through their work history and the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) for certain government employees who are not covered by Social Security.
Most people are familiar with Social Security and the fact that you apply for benefits at a certain age depending on when you were born and whether you want to receive partial or full benefits. You can apply for benefits for yourself or as a spouse if you meet the following four requirements:
- You are at least 61 years and 9 months old.
- You are not currently receiving Social Security on your work record.
- You have not already applied for benefits.
- You want benefits to start no more than four months in the future.
You can also apply for Medicare when you apply for Social Security if you are within three months of age 65.
Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)
FERS, which replaced the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) in 1987, provides benefits to civilian government workers through three programs: a Basic Benefit Plan, Social Security, and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).
Eligibility for FERS benefits is determined by your age and number of years of service. The CSRS and FERS planning and applying website provides complete information depending on how close you are to retirement.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sponsors several tax-assistance programs to make federal and, in some cases, state tax filing, easier and free.
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $66,000 or below, you can file federal, and in many cases, state returns, online at no cost to you. The process and what you need to have in order to file are all explained in this Free File infographic. Get help choosing a product using the Free File Online Lookup Tool.
With income above $66,000, you can still use the Free File Fillable Forms tool to prepare your taxes as long as you are comfortable doing your own taxes and don’t require assistance. The fillable forms tool lets you file electronically but does not include state forms.
VITA and TCE Tax Filing Assistance Programs
The IRS has two in-person tax assistance programs: the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). Both offer free tax-preparation assistance to qualified individuals. VITA generally applies to you if your income is $57,000 or less, you are disabled, or you have limited English-speaking skills. TCE is for citizens aged 60 or older.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all TCE sites and many VITA sites are closed until further notice. Use the VITA locator tool to find out if a site near you is open.
The IRS People First Initiative
With the challenges of the coronavirus in the news, the IRS recently launched a program known as the People First Initiative, which consists of a number of steps designed to provide payment relief and postpone certain compliance actions. This initiative is in addition to the extended tax filing and payment deadline of July 15, 2020. Additional information can be found on the IRS People First Initiative FAQ webpage.
Financial Assistance for Small Business
Small businesses are the beneficiaries of several long-standing government assistance loan programs, most of them originating from the Small Business Administration (SBA). In addition to the historical help these programs have provided, many also now offer special coronavirus-related assistance.
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Many owners of SMBs know about the main SBA loan programs, especially considering all the publicity the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) programs have received.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
The SBA, in consultation with the U.S. Treasury Department, announced on Jan. 13, 2021, that they have reopened the PPP. The PPP was created to provide funds to companies with the financial hardship that has resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. Typically, the loans must be paid back within two to five years. PPP loans can be forgiven if employee retention criteria have been met.
President Joe Biden injected an additional $7.25 billion for the PPP with his signature of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. PPP loans will be entirely forgiven as long as 60% of the loan is used to support payroll expenses and the remainder goes to mortgage interest, rent, utilities, personal protective equipment, or certain other business expenses.
The deadline to apply for a PPP loan has been extended to May 31, 2021, and financial institutions have an additional month, until June 30, 2021, to finish processing, with the passage and signing of the PPP Extension Act on March 30, 2021, extending the covered period for PPP loans until June 30, 2021.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)
The deadline to apply for the EIDL program as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extended to Dec. 31, 2021. EIDL loans are designed to meet the financial obligations and operating expenses of small businesses with a payment schedule that can last as long as 30 years. Unlike PPP loans, the EIDL funds must be paid back and are not forgiven.
Also, the program’s ability to offer loans is subject to the availability of funds. In other words, when the money that was allocated to the program runs out, there will be no more loans.
Some of the program’s benefits include:
- Affordable terms: a 3.75% interest rate for small businesses and a 2.75% interest rate for nonprofit organizations
- A loan maturity of 30 years
- An automatic deferment of one year before monthly payments begin
However, the SBA has much more to offer than coronavirus relief. Other SBA loan programs include the SBA Express Bridge Loan, SBA Debt Relief, and more, including access to funding to launch, manage, and grow your business. Full details, including eligibility, can be found on the SBA homepage.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The USDA offers a number of programs aimed at all sectors of the agricultural community. Programs include farm loans, housing assistance, loans and grants for rural economic development, loans for beginning farmers and ranchers, livestock insurance, and more. Detailed information on all USDA programs, including how to apply, can be found on the USDA Grants and Loans program webpage.
As a reminder, if you’re facing foreclosure for mortgage loans backed by the USDA, the foreclosure moratorium was extended until June 30, 2021, for eligible loans.
Small Business Lending Fund
The Small Business Lending Fund (SMLF), created as part of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, is a dedicated fund that provides capital to community banks and community development loan funds (CDLFs) to encourage those organizations to lend to small businesses. Information about this fund, including the location of lending institutions near you, can be found on the U.S. Treasury Small Business Lending Fund website.
Pros of Government Business Programs
- Low interest rates
- Favorable repayment terms
- Less collateral needed
- Low or no down payments
Cons of Government Business Programs
- The loan amount may be small
- Long approval process
- Personal guarantee often required
- Good credit usually required
Watch Out for Scams
People looking for government assistance sometimes come across ads for “free government grants.” However, the government does not award grants to individuals, only to states, universities, and other organizations. Anyone who suggests otherwise is probably running a scam. If you receive such an offer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests the following dos and don’ts: