How to Find Help When You're Down and Out

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When you're out of work and struggling to find work, paying the bills is next to impossible. The deeper in debt you get, the more you feel like a failure. Then depression sets in, making it less likely that you'll be able to do what it takes to land a great job. It's a scary situation and one that many Americans are having to face for the first time. Many of us were raised in middle-income families and while we took college-prep classes, we weren't really given a lot of instructions on how to be poor. In fact, I can't recall ever having taken a class about budgeting when I was in high school.

Although being broke isn't something to aspire to, it happens to all of us at one point or another. Unfortunately, our current economic recession came right after a period of rapid growth. Which meant that people who had been working for a decade and who had been able to live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle were suddenly faced with job loss, foreclosures, evictions and even facing the real threat of being hungry and homeless.

It's scary, but if you're in this situation, you're not alone. The good thing is that there are places you can go if you need help. Although no one wants to be in this position, there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

If you're struggling and need help, here are a few places to look:

See if you qualify for food stamps: Today's food stamp program, now called SNAP, is very different than you might think. When I was young, food stamps were little coupon books that people would have to tear out and give to a cashier. It was embarassing and caused a delay at the checkout. These days, benefits are distributed on an EBT card that works just like a credit or debit card. When you purchase food, you simply swipe the card, making the process discrete and easy. Many states even allow you to find out if you are eligible and apply for benefits online. Check with your local department of Social Services to see if you qualify. If you're struggling to afford food, this program can make a big difference and you don't have to have a family to qualify.

There are places that help when you're facing eviction: If you can't pay your rent, there are organizations that can help. Many non-profit agencies work to prevent homelessness and can help you stay in your apartment. Most of them require you to already have an eviction notice before they will help, but if you're in this situation, they can make a difference. You can find out what assistance there is in your area by doing a web search or contacting your local Social Service office.

There may be job re-training programs that will help you go back to school: If you can't find a job and think that you need more training in order to get a good job, there are programs designed to help. The first place to look is your local employment commission or a one-stop job center. Depending on your state, there are programs that help people who are out of work get the training they need to compete in the workforce. For example, in Maryland, there is a program that will provide one-time retraining assistance of up to $8,900. Of course, these programs are almost all need based, so if you already have a good job or have a high income, you might not be eligible. There are also programs like Americorps, which can give you a small living stipend and financial assistance for college in exchange for volunteer work.

If you or your family member has a disability, Social Security can help: If you have a disability that prevents you from being able to find a job, Social Security may be able to help. Applying for Disability isn't as complicated as you might think and you can even check your eligibility and start the application process online. In addition, if you are caring for a child with special needs, they may be able to qualify for assistance as well.

Apply for Energy Assistance programs: If you're having trouble paying your utility bills, there are many programs that can help. To find them, contact your electric company or Social Services. Many of these programs will provide you with ongoing assistance and can even help if you have a cut-off notice.

When you're down and out, it's a scary place. However, there are programs that can help. They aren't always easy to find, so you'll have to do some research to find the right help for your situation.

Have you ever had to get help? What programs have helped you the most? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Image by Stuart Miles /


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