From $3,000 in gas money to doubled LIHEAP benefits, there have been a lot of great announcements for low income Americans this week!
In this week’s low income news recap, we’re going to talk about some major changes nationwide, as well as some exciting state news.
There have been a lot of updates at the federal level. Any changes that happen that the federal level tend to impact residents of all states and areas.
Plans to Replace Stolen EBT Benefits
The USDA has released an update about replacing stolen SNAP benefits. As I’ve said in previous updates, the states were required to submit their replacement plan by February 27, 2023. Those plans are now waiting for approval at the federal level.
As of this report, both Vermont and Maryland have had their state plans approved. It appears that both states have implemented those plans, so people who have lost their benefits to theft in those states should be receiving replacements soon.
Increased LIHEAP Funding
The Department of Health and Human Services has also issued an additional $560 million for LIHEAP funds. In the last two months, the agency has released over $1.5 billion dollars toward this program!
If you need help with your heating and cooling costs, you absolutely need to contact your local LIHEAP agency.
For those who don’t already know, LIHEAP stands for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and it provides a payment directly to your utility provider to cover your heating or cooling costs. These funds are usually administered by your local Community Action Council, but you can always reach out to your utility provider to find out who distributes LIHEAP funds in your area.
Win $3,000 in FREE Gas Money
AutoTrader is offering $3,000 in gas money through their Fueled by AutoTrader sweepstakes! This prize will be awarded to 11 people, so 11 people will be able to take home the grand prize.
In order to win, you must enter by April 21. The entry form asks for your name and email address, and it’s free to enter. You can apply online.
Remember, you can only enter the sweepstakes only one time – if you submit more than one entry you will be disqualified.
Massive Food Fraud Ring Busted
Ten more people were charged in connection with a massive fraud scheme this week. That brings the total to more than 60 people who were involved in a scheme to steal more than $250 million from a pandemic program intended to feed hungry children in Minnesota.
Minnesota nonprofit Feeding Our Future is at the center of the drama, and investigators say that the nonprofit received funds that were supposed to feed kids but instead that money was laundered through shell companies and spent on luxury cars, property, and travel expenses.
Free Vaccines for Seniors
The newly passed Inflation Reduction Act also makes vaccines free under Medicare Part D. The Department of Health & Human Services estimates that this will save seniors $70 or so per year.
Help for debt lawsuits
Debt collectors can be scary and, in my experience, debt collection activity tends to pick up around tax time because those collectors are hoping to get some money out of your tax refund.
If you get sued for a debt, you need to know about SoloSuit. I’ve used this service to answer debt collection lawsuits and it’s very easy to use. They’ll walk you through the prompts and can even help you submit that answer through the mail. They have debt settlement services and other helpful tools, too, so if you’ve got debt, be sure to check out SoloSuit now!
We have a lot of local news today. I’ve been searching hard to find updates for every state, because I know so many of you are patiently waiting to hear about programs in your area.
In Alaska, the Anchorage Assembly is working toward the purchase of a 17-acre facility in midtown which could be turned into a homeless shelter and low income housing.
It is not clear if or when this facility will be completed but it could be a great opportunity to add more affordable housing to the Anchorage area.
In Arizona, Cox Communications has stated that it will bring high-speed internet services to certain parts of rural southern Arizona by the end of this summer. This is great news for rural residents who rely on slow internet connections.
The Gila library also has some new museum passes that are absolutely amazing!
In Arkansas, Central Arkansas Water officials have announced that low income households can receive up to $2,000 toward their current and future bills AND an additional $2,000 toward your past bills. That’s up to $4,000 to offset the cost of your utilities!
The money will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, so you need to apply right away before the money runs out.
In California, a new guaranteed income program is being offered through a partnership between the City of Sacramento and the United Way. This program will provide $500 per month in cash with no strings attached to 80 eligible households.
In order to qualify, you must live in the city of Sacramento and meet income limits. The limits depend on your household size but are quite generous. For example, a one parent, one child household could earn up to $49,945 and still be eligible.
Applications are open until April 14 and you can apply online.
Also in California, low income seniors in Manteca can get a discount on their solid waste bills. The rates will increase to $63.07 by 2027 for all customers except low income seniors, who will get a discounted rate of $23.71.
To qualify, you must be at least 60 years old, be named on the City of Manteca utilities account, and meet income requirements. The income limits are based on household size. The limit is $33,150 per year for a two-person household.
In Colorado, a proposed new bill would restrict evictions. Landlords would only be able to evict tenants or terminate leases if the tenant does something wrong, like failing to pay rent or doing something illegal in the home.
No-fault evictions would be heavily restricted and require the landlord to provide 90 days’ notice and pay up the tenant up to three month’s rent to help with moving expenses. This bill has passed the state house and is being considered by the state senate.
In Florida, Miami-Dade’s PACT group has been working with the Mayor to make a plan to help low income communities stay cooler in the hot summer months. This new program will increase the number of trees across the county to help reduce air conditioning costs.
The city has earmarked $4 million for tree planting in low income neighborhoods.
In Idaho, the state legislature has approved $32 million in rent relief funding for residents who do not live in Ada County. The funding has been provided to an Idaho Housing and Finance Commission program, so I would contact them if you need assistance with rent in that state.
The only reason Ada County is not included in this funding is because that county has its own, separate rent relief program.
In Illinois, a new law has passed that will mandate paid time off based on hours worked. The new law takes effect January 1st, 2024, and will make sure that employees do not need to explain the reason for their absence as long as they provide sufficient notice.
The law requires employers to provide one hour of paid time off for every 40 hours worked, with a maximum of 40 hours of paid time off required by law. Employees must be able to access that PTO after 90 days of employment.
Unfortunately, this law does not apply to residents of Cook County, including Chicago, because those locations are covered by existing local laws.
Also in Illinois, an organization called Faith Coalition for the Common Good is working to end juvenile court fines. There are currently two proposed laws in the state legislature that would eliminate these fees and fines, which disproportionately hurt low income families, and instead replace the monetary punishment with different consequences.
In Indiana, the seasonal moratorium that stops energy providers from shutting off your service due to nonpayment ended this week.
If you have past-due bills, you need to reach out to the LIHEAP program right away to apply. You can also call 211 or reach out to your local Community Action Council for additional assistance.
In Iowa, new plans to improve legal aid access in rural areas have been announced. It also appears that legal fees for low income people who need a court-appointed attorney will be reviewed, which is good because Iowa charges more for court-appointed representation than other state.
In Kansas, the Governor is trying to raise awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which can provide up to $30 per month toward your internet bills. Only 21% of eligible Kansas residents are enrolled in this program.
In Maine, the Maine Housing Authority told the CBS-13 team that they are distributing double LIHEAP benefits this year!
If you received LIHEAP prior to hotel legislation, then you will receive a second payment equal to the first. If you are just now applying for LIHEAP, you’ll receive a double benefit immediately. The extra benefit does not need to be paid back.
In Maryland, a nonprofit called Enterprise Community Partners is offering grants to help low income seniors stay in their homes as they age. These grants are going to be provided to nonprofits who serve seniors in the state. Nonprofits have to apply by April 14 to be considered.
If you know of a nonprofit that serves seniors in your area, please let them know about this!
In Massachusetts, low income Dartmouth residents can subscribe to community solar projects through Eversource East. This program is designed to help provide electricity bill credits to low income subscribers. You can get more information from South Coast Today or Eversource East.
Also in Massachusetts, the city of Havervill has introduced free legal aid for low income residents. The program is located at the Citizen’s Center and is available between noon and 4pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The program can provide pro bono services with housing, elder law, family law, consumer protection, disability benefits and education advocacy!
In Michigan, Gesher Human Services is offering a free six-week financial program for low income residents with credit scores below 620. The program is called HarMoney and it provides assistance with money management, credit improvement, budgeting and savings.
The best part? If you complete the six-week program, you could receive a grant of up to $2,500 from Huntington Bank!
According to program representatives, some participants see their credit scores rise by 100 points or more, which can help you get better jobs, better housing and so much more.
Also in Michigan, Wayne State University is offering free college for low income students! Families who have incomes of $70,000 per year or less will have no out-of-pocket expenses.
In Mississippi, the Tupelo Lee Humane Society has been distributing pet food for those who cannot afford it. They can provide up to a five-day supply per pet, for up to four pets per household. The food is available on the third Wednesday of each month.
In Missouri, a movement is underway to get the state to stop taxing grocery food items. However, certain lawmakers are fighting that proposal… so please reach out to your state lawmakers and tell them to stop taxing groceries!
In Montana, there are several exciting proposals underway.
First, lawmakers are considering extending Medicaid coverage for postpartum women. Currently, Medicaid only covers mothers for 60 days after they give birth. The proposal would extend that coverage to 12 months postpartum.
Second, the state is also considering ending the tax on Social Security Income! Currently, the law exempts 85% of Social Security payments from taxes and the lowest income earners don’t pay taxes on their Social Security. This new law would simplify the state tax code to end the tax on Social Security altogether.
Nebraska is also considering ending the tax on Social Security benefits next year. This is one year earlier than their current law requires.
The state is also considering another law that would make more people eligible for cash assistance by almost doubling the income limits for TANF cash benefits.
In New Jersey, utility providers can begin shutting off gas and electric services on unpaid accounts this week. If you have unpaid past-due bills, you need to contact LIHEAP right away. Your utility provider may be able to refer you to additional resources to help you get that bill paid.
Also in New Jersey, the governor recently signed a new law that expands eligibility for free veterans funerals. Any veteran who has an income that is 200% or less of the federal poverty level can have their funeral paid for through the state’s veterans services.
In New Mexico, legislation has been introduced that could help low income people get cheaper utility bills. The new law would provide utility bill credits to eligible residents of low income housing units.
In New York, New York City has introduced a new pilot program that is designed to help low income neighborhoods recover from flooding.
This program will provide grants of up to $15,000 for homeowners who live in a one-to-four unit home and have an income that is 165% or less of the city’s area median income. The grants will be provided within days of the flood and there are no restrictions on how the money must be spent.
In North Carolina, the Medicaid expansion is one step closer to becoming a real thing! It passed with overwhelming approval from the state senate on Tuesday. This new legislation could bring Medicaid to 600,000 people in the state.
In Ohio, the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio is helping low income families get access to free driver’s ed! Contact them if you live in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana Counties.
In Oregon, I have an update on that low income housing situation I’ve been telling you about. The tenants who were going to lose their low income housing successfully convinced the Washington County Housing Authority to purchase the Woodspring Apartment complex. The county has made an offer and is waiting for a response, but in the meantime this has given hope to the tenants who were facing homelessness as a result of those rent hikes.
In rural Lane County, Oregon, there’s a cool program taking place. KeyBank is funding Career Technical Education classes for high school students. This program gives high schoolers the chance to learn how to build sheds, and the sheds are provided to low income residents who live in mobile home parks owned by the local St. Vincent de Paul.
In Pennsylvania, NeighborWorks of Northeastern Pennsylvania also received $8 million to fund home repairs for seniors. Seniors can get up to $50,000 in grants through this program, which can be used to fix roofs, replace windows and siding, and make homes more accessible and safe for seniors.
In Rhode Island, lawmakers are considering a proposal that would provide free school breakfasts and lunches to all public school students regardless of household income.
In Tennessee, the Tennessee Homeowner Program can provide up to $40,000 in home repair grants. These grants can be used for electrical work, roof replacement or repair, HVAC system repair or replacement, plumbing replacements and more.
In order to be eligible, you need to have an income that is at or below 80% of the median income for your area and you must own and occupy the home that will be repaired.
In Texas, new state laws have been proposed to help fix the shortage of lawyers in rural parts of the state. The Texas Tribune reports that low income residents of over 200 rural Texas counties have to wait up to five days to be appointed a lawyer, which means they’re staying in jail longer, missing more work and experiencing other hardships.
The new law proposals will give lawyers up to $180,000 to repay their student loans if they practice criminal law in a rural area for four years. The hope is that this will bring more lawyers to the area and solve the problem.
In Utah, there are a group of doctors in St. George that are offering free health care services to uninsured, underinsured and low income families in the area. They offer medical care, mental health services and even dental services at no cost.
If you’d like to get help, please visit The Doctors Volunteer Clinic on Riverside Drive in St. George.
As stated above, Vermont’s plan to replace stolen EBT benefits was approved recently. It should go into effect soon so that Vermont residents who have lost benefits to fraud can get them replaced.
In Virginia, lawmakers have announced that the state will invest $93 million in 56 low income housing projects around the state. This money should create 3,825 affordable rental units and 111 affordable single family homes.
In Washington, the state is looking for ways to tackle the housing crisis. Lawmakers are considering increasing the benefits offered by the Housing and Essential Needs program but no decisions have been made yet.
In West Virginia, a new round of LIHEAP funding has become available. Senator Capito announced that the state will be receiving $4.8 million in funding, which will be used to help with heating and cooling bills, as well as weatherization services, during 2023.
In Wisconsin, the UW System is getting ready to fund the first year of the Wisconsin Tuition Promise Program this fall. This program provides full tuition coverage for new in-state freshmen whose families earn $62,000 or less per year.
The program is open to students attending any University of Wisconsin campus other than UW-Madison, since that campus already has its own tuition promise program. Interested students will need to contact the University of Wisconsin for details.
In Wyoming, the Lander City Council has approved an update to the city’s low income utility rate discounts. The new requirements are based strictly on household size and income.
If your household’s income is 133% of the federal poverty level or less for your household size, you can get 50% off your monthly water and wastewater service fee. The discount tapers to 40% for those who bring in 150% or less of the federal poverty level.