Impossible you say? No one can live off $796 a month these days. Where? In a cardboard box, or living with your relatives? No, really; you can live off $796 a month in these United States in the 21st Century. I should know, I have been doing it for quite some time now. You see I am on Social Security Disability. Now wait, just a minute. My benefits come from all those years I worked hard supporting my two children as a single mother. I paid into the system since I was 13 years old and an unfortunate act of violence landed me in this position of learning the hard way to make it through the month on next to nothing.
I know most of you make that in one week, so to actually have to deal with such a small amount of money must be mind boggling to you. Well it was for me too, even after my several attempts at trying to return to the work force, only to be forced to quit after a few weeks due to the unbearable pain I deal with every day. But it is possible to live below the poverty line and still have a fairly good life.
The first thing you will want to do is secure housing for yourself. You can apply for housing through your local HUD field agent to find apartments where the rents are based on your income. You will find that you will pay 30 percent of your income towards your rent. Some states still are offering Home Choice Section 8 Vouchers. These Vouchers allow you to look on the open market for a rental unit that fits within the HUD criteria financially as well as in construction. These landlords may be hard to find, but there are some out there that will work with you and apply to be a Section 8 Landlord. You still pay 30 percent of the rent, and your Housing Authority will pay the difference. Many of the waiting list for these vouchers and subsidized buildings do have waiting list anywhere from one year to three years. Get on the list Now! Call back frequently to see where you are on the list as they are updated regularly. Many on those waiting lists may have found different housing options, died, moved out of the area or cannot be contacted. Be persistent, check back every three months or the time period recommended by your Housing Authority.
Next you will want to apply for assistance with your state for snap benefits (food stamps), these benefits can range from $10 to $300 depending on your family number and financial situation. The more money you have to pay out of your own pocket for housing and medical the more you can qualify for in snap benefits. You will also want to apply for medical assistance from the state or if you receive SSDI, like I do, then you will want to check into Medicare and see if you qualify for state assistance to pay the premium. Some states will have a spend down qualifier for their medical insurance program. This is where you spend a certain amount of out-of-pocket expenses for medical care, prescription and other medical aides. These cost can be used as an off set for housing as well. If you do not have enough of these expenses, then you can purchase the state health insurance for a certain amount of money based on your income. If I were to pay for Montana Medicaid I would be required to pay $151 per month for this insurance. You are not required to carry this insurance every month, but can purchase it in advanced of knowing that you will be seeing your medical provider and roughly how much the visit and cost of treatment may be so you can gauge whether it would be cheaper to pay the spend down.
There are also charity programs out there such as donated dental services where you can apply for assistance to see the dentist. Do your due diligent and search on the internet for other agencies that can help you pay for or receive these services at discounted prices if not free. There are a lot of organizations out there that will also help with Vet care if you have a pet or service animal, so be careful not to apply for medical credit cards that will charge a huge interest fee and you won’t be able to get out from under for a long time. Many of the Drug companies have programs that you can qualify for free or discount prescriptions. If you find yourself in the hospital with no way to pay for it, as about their low or no income grant program. At one time the hospitals here in Montana went under the Halliburton Program to help those who had no way to pay their hospital bills, it is now under a different name. The Hospital will not tell you about this program you have to ask. I found out about it by reading a plaque on the wall of the emergency room of the hospital.
Many of these programs will expect you to report any and all income or monetary gifts; but some income like seasonal, selling at craft shows, or one time payments will not have to be reported. Check with you Case manager in housing and for snap benefits to see which income is disallowable. One other thing you should be aware of is that if you do manage to secure a job, in the Home Choice Voucher program you may be able to have your rent frozen for a period of time before it is adjusted to your earnings. Many of the Housing Counselors do not know that you can do this, but under Title V, Section 508 of the 1998 QHWA and there are more specifics of qualifications in the Code of Federal Regulations, once again do your due diligent as most housing counselors will not know the laws pertaining to these issues. I live only with my service dog and pay my 30 percent of rent for my own apartment and have had to root these solutions out for myself.
If your town has a food bank they can help you get buy until your funds come in, some churches also provide food and clothing for those who are at or below the poverty line. Don’t be ashamed to go to your local mission or soup kitchen for a meal daily or once or twice a week to get through the month. Some Senior Centers will allow you to purchase meals through them or their Meals on Wheels programs if you are disabled. Many will let you pay for this service with Snap Benefits.
I also do things like writing this article, sell my handcrafted items at Farmer’s Markets and Craft shows. I also collect scrap iron and aluminum cans from the road ways as this income they do not count because of its inconsistent amount and availability. It isn’t easy to live on such a poultry sum of money, but it can be done. Tell yourself it is an adventure and educate yourself about the laws surrounding housing, medical care, and welfare assistance so that you can stand up for yourself and make sure that you can receive the services and goods you need. You have to be your own advocate when living below the poverty line, but remember when you stand up for yourself you are helping thousands of others who are in the same boat so don’t forget to share the information you have found that protects your rights and makes it possible to live off $796 a month.