How Poor Are You? Part 1

About four years ago, I did some volunteer work at a local food pantry. My job was interviewing prospective users of the pantry which included an in-depth discussion of their budget and finances. This part of the interview process was to help families find additional resources and programs like WIC or heating oil assistance if they weren’t aware of them.

I remember one day having to look up the federal poverty rate and having an epiphany that I was below it. That’s right, I could have not only been using the food pantry I volunteered at but I could have also taken advantage of some of these programs I had been talking to people about. Hmph.


Fast-forward to now. I’m making double what I was living on back then at my day job (and this is not even including income I make with my business). While I am no longer a poor college student working part-time, I don’t exactly feel like I’m rolling in it.

I thought it would be interesting to look up some of the programs I used to refer people to and see who would qualify for them now. Today, I’ll tackle food and health programs and the following post I’ll talk housing.

Food Stamps
This is a little formulaic but there are some basic requirements, like being a US citizen and having less than $2000 in assets. (Note: Your house does not count as an asset, but your car may depending on how you use it.) Here is a handy little online calculator to see if you qualify. I personally have too much in savings to qualify.

For single people, annual income to qualify for Medicaid is roughly $8500, total resources being $13,800. Pregnant women and children, however, you make of this 200% above the federal poverty line. There are, of course, exceptions.

Dental/Medical Clinics
Clinics seem to vary state to state compared to other programs. When I called my local dental clinic, I could not get any assistance because an income of $22,000 a year is making “way too much money” to qualify.There is, however, a great directory of health clinics that are searchable online.

WIC is a USDA program where new mothers and their children (up to five years old) qualify for not only breast-feeding support and immunization services but also can purchase “nutritious” foods such as formula, milk, and cereal. Income guidelines are 185% above the federal poverty level, which means a household of one would make around $19,200 a year.

Free or reduced price meals at schools
School lunch programs offer discounts in the way of reduced price meals (185% above the federal poverty line or $19,200) and free meals (130% above the federal poverty line or $13,500).

Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, and if you want more possibilities:
See other programs from the Department of Health and Human Services…

Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

2 Responses to “How Poor Are You? Part 1

  • I don’t qualify for any of these programs, but I have issues with the way most of the social welfare programs work.
    I’m all for them when they’re needed and actually helping a family out; however, that said, there is a lot of room for abuse in these programs. I think $488 a month in food stamps is plenty to feed a family of four. Maybe you can’t get all the name brand foods, but it’s entirely possible to get all of the essentials with that much. There’s no need to raise the dollar amount on that – not liking that part of Obama’s stimulus plan.
    I also think there needs to be tighter regulation on social welfare programs and I think it needs to have a time limit, unless there’s a good reason why it’s still needed. So, for example, a completely able body who can go out and get a job should only be allowed to stay on the program for no more than 5 years – if that. It shouldn’t be the taxpayers responsibility to foot his/her bill. But, let’s say a single mom is working three jobs to support her kids, then I think that’s a fair exception to the 5 year rule.
    Ok, let me get off my soapbox now…sorry Nicole! I get a little riled up on this topic.

  • Sarah
    10 years ago

    $488 a month to feed a family of four, including a few growing kids who need good nutrition, isn’t a whole lot of money in many parts of the country, especially when you consider that many of the people on food stamps have the hassle of public transportation so might not be able to get to the cheapest grocery stores. Furthermore, it costs more money to eat healthier per calorie, and I think we can agree that healthy food is a must for growing kids. And if that mother you mention has three jobs, she doesn’t have time to cook for her family and needs ready-to-eat foods or foods that an older sibling can make easily and safely alone, but of course, those are more expensive (especially if you consider that she probably will need to pay for at least some childcare for very young children, particularly if she takes advantage of night or graveyard shifts or peak hours at groceries or general stores).
    Back to the mother with three jobs – should ANYONE have to have three jobs to care for their family? As far as able-bodied people finding jobs, with the trouble with childcare (and poor public transportation in most of the country making it difficult to get to work or to get your children to childcare), for many people with low levels of education, there just aren’t the jobs available that they need to continue to care for their family.
    People should help people who simply can’t help themselves. There’s room for abuse in most things, and the majority of people on welfare desperately need that help. It’s a case of a slippery slope – better paying jobs require more time at work or a higher level of education. But how can anyone spend more time at work or go to school if they can’t afford to pay for childcare and feed their family? Once you get out of that track, it’s hard to get back on.
    Like many programs, social welfare programs could do with changes but until we come up with a better system, we need to support the huge numbers of people who are trying to get their feet under them instead of merely focusing on those who take advantage of the system.

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *