Here’s what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment benefits when you’ve lost your job
I’m pretty disgusted with lawmakers who say they want to add more requirements for people to fulfill before they can get food stamps, Medicaid, or other social services benefits and/or federal assistance. It looks to me like they have absolutely no idea what it is like to be poor, unemployed, homeless, stranded, and/or hungry.
I wonder if any of them know what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment benefits when you’ve lost your job. Have they gone through the process? It’s daunting.
So I’m going to lay out two scenarios for readers, so you can walk in the footsteps of people (composites of people I know, no real names used) who need aid and need it NOW.
Then I’d appreciate hearing your comments as to whether you think it makes any sense to add more rules to an already-difficult situation for poor people and those who are disabled and/or down on their luck.
Do we need to add more requirements to what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment benefits in the U.S.?
A 35-year-old woman loses her job
Here’s what it takes to get assistance in Todd County, Minnesota – a rural agricultural area in the center of the state, 130 miles from Minneapolis. I know about this because I lived there for 13 years.
Median income in Todd County was $47,920 in 2015. Median contract rent for apartments: $468. (http://www.city-data.com/county/Todd_County-MN.html) Utilities estimated at $50 per month for heat and electricity for an apartment.
Let’s pretend you are a woman, age 35, unmarried, with three children under 10 (ages 3, 6, and 9) and no car. You live in a small apartment in Staples, Minnesota. You’ve been laid off from your cleaning job at a factory in Staples, Minnesota.
At the factory cleaning job, you earned $10.00 per hour for a 40-hour week (that’s $400 gross, minus deductions for social security – 12.4%, Medicare 2.9%, income tax withholding of $18, etc., so your net pay was about $320 per week, or $16,640 per year (about 33% of the MEDIAN income in the county). Your employer provided a basic healthcare policy for free.
- Your rent is $468 per month. You have no car.
- Your food cost per month in March 2016 (the latest available figures) was estimated by the USDA to be $563.20, but you probably spend far less than that because you don’t have the cash. (https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CostofFoodMar2016_0.pdf).
- Utilities are about $50 per month for heat and electricity with a low-income subsidy. You can’t afford a phone or cable TV.
So what you have left after rent, food, and utilities is $199 per month ($50 per week) for clothing, medicine, school supplies, day care, transportation, and everything else for four people. You have no bank accounts and pay your bills with money orders.
But now you have no job and no income. So what do you do? Your rent is due in 3 weeks.
You decide to apply for unemployment and for aid at the county. Your county seat, Long Prairie, is 29 miles from your home in Staples.
–You can apply in person or online. If you apply in person, come Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 4:30 PM, to the Todd County Courthouse in Long Prairie, Minnesota.
There is no public transportation system in Todd County. There is a subsidized occasional bus service called Rainbow Rider. The fare depends on the distance you travel. 0 – 5 miles, $2. 5.1 – 10 miles, $4. 10.1 – 20 miles, $6. $2 additional for every 10 miles thereafter. You must call and request a ride at least 6 hours in advance. If you call less than 6 hours before, $1 will be added to the fare. The buses run regular routes between the towns of Long Prairie and Browerville, and between Long Prairie and Grey Eagle. If you are going anywhere else, you have to request a ride.
You don’t live in Browerville, Grey Eagle, or Long Prairie. Your apartment is in Staples. The distance between Staples and Long Prairie is 29 miles, so the round trip will cost you $16.
—First, you decide to apply for unemployment.
To accomplish this, you learn that you can go online to www.uimn.org, to complete an application, or call a phone number for Greater Minnesota: 1-877-898-9090 to complete the application by phone. You don’t have a computer or a phone.
- You’ll need your social security number, employer’s name and address, dates of work, type of work, and why you are no longer employed there. After you complete the application, if you are eligible, your weekly benefit will be about 50% of your average weekly wage, or about $200 in your case.
- To receive benefit payments, you must make a request for a benefit payment every week – online or by phone. When you make your weekly request, you will be asked to report any income, if you are available to accept work, and if you are looking for work.
The earliest you could receive a payment is about three weeks after you apply. http://www.uimn.org/assets/HowToApplyForUI_tcm1068-193561.pdf . You must keep the address on your account up to date for at least four years after your last request for a benefit payment.
If you are deemed NOT eligible for unemployment, you may be eligible for $621 in cash assistance and $581 in food assistance, according to a social worker you talked to .
You call the phone number for the unemployment office, using a phone at the library, and complete the application for unemployment benefits.
—Second, you decide to apply for county aid.
To be considered for county aid, you learn that you must complete the ApplyMN application online or in person at the Courthouse in Long Prairie to apply for cash, food, child care, and emergency assistance.
You do not have a computer. To use one, you must go to the local library. The library in Staples is open MON 10:00 – 6:00. TUE 2:00 – 8:00. WED 10:00 – 6:00. THU 2:00 – 8:00. FRI 1:00 – 5:00. SAT 10:00 – 1:00. SUN Closed.
To see if you qualify for ApplyMn housing benefits, you must go to www.BridgetoBenefits.org/Home2. There you will find a short questionnaire to see if you qualify:
Check any items that describe your living situation:
–Someone in my family has a physical or developmental disability
–I am a grandparent, other relative or family friend raising someone else’s child(ren)
–I am under the age of 18 and living on my own
–I am a senior, 65 years or older.
Since you don’t fit any of those four criteria, then you don’t qualify for benefits through BridgetoBenefits.
Next, try to find out if you can get food stamps, now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP. Here are the requirements:
If you are an able-bodied adult without dependents (in other words, a single person 18-50), you can only get food benefits for 3 months in a 36-month period unless you meet at least one of the following requirements:
- You work at least 20 hours per week (80 hours per month)
- You participate in an approved employment program at least 80 hours per month
- You are receiving cash assistance
- You are certified unable to work
- You live on Bois Forte, Fond Du Lac, Leech Lake, Lower Sioux, Mille Lacs, Red Lake or White Earth Reservations
- You live in Cass, Clearwater, Kanabec, or Mille Lacs counties
- You are pregnant
- You are under age 18 or older than age 50
But you are an able-bodied adult with 3 dependents, so you may qualify for SNAP. You may have to meet an asset or income test.
SNAP in Minnesota provides a minimum monthly benefit of $16. The average benefit is $118.
If you meet certain other criteria listed below, you may be eligible for SNAP with no asset or income test:
- Families in which at least 1 child in the household is eligible to receive Basic Sliding Fee Child Care and/or the Transition Year Child Care. The family must have applied and been found eligible for the Child Care Assistance Program but can still be on the waiting list.
- Families participating in the Diversionary Work Program (DWP).
- Families composed entirely of people who receive General Assistance (GA), Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in Minnesota.
If you want to apply for SNAP, you must complete the Combined Application Form (CAF) online or at your county social services office in person. It is 15 pages long, plus instructions. This application can also be used to apply for cash assistance (Minnesota Family Investment Program or Diversionary Work Program) or a health program.
You decide to go to Long Prairie to the Courthouse to fill out the applications and schedule your interview.
Next, you call the Rainbow Rider bus line from a phone at the library. You ask for a ride for tomorrow at 9 AM, from Staples to Long Prairie, returning later in the day. The ride will cost you $8 each way, using $16 of your $50 per week cash.
At the library, on one of the library’s public computers, you learn about what to do at the Todd County social services office.
Here are Todd County’s online instructions:
–You must come for a scheduled face-to-face interview if you are applying for cash assistance (MFIP and DWP) programs. Interviews for food and other cash programs can be conducted as scheduled interviews over the telephone. You must bring proof of your income, such as check stubs, and your expenses.
–For health care, go to mnsure.org to inquire. If you are 65 or over, certified disabled through Social Security, or are receiving Medicare, contact the county office for the appropriate application form. Your unemployment benefit amount will determine whether the children and yourself are eligible for Medical Assistance, MnCare, Unassisted Health, or QNP.
You make your journey to Long Prairie, to the Courthouse where the social services office is located. You waited until your two older children left for school, and then you asked a neighbor to watch your 3-year-old for the day.
Now , after an hour on the Rainbow Rider bus, you’ve arrived at the Courthouse in the county seat, Long Prairie. You go to the Social Services office. You have brought with you all the information required:
■ Identification showing your name and address
■ A Social Security number for all household members applying for benefits; if you or a member of your household has not applied for a Social Security number, you must apply at the same time you apply for benefits
■ Proof of your monthly earnings, such as recent pay stubs
■ Proof of your monthly unearned income, such as benefit statements
■ Proof of housing costs (needed before the agency can allow these costs as a deduction from your income)
■ Proof of immigration status for all household members applying for benefits
■ Medical bills of household members who are 60 years or older or have disabilities if these bills are not paid by insurance, Medical Assistance or Medicare (needed before the agency can allow these costs as a deduction from your income.The agency cannot decide if you will get benefits until you submit the entire application and required verifications.If you qualify for benefits, you will get them no later than 30 days from the date you submitted your application.
You wait for your turn and meet with a social worker at the county social services office to ask about food assistance, cash assistance, and work programs.
You decide to apply for the Child Care Program also. How does the Child Care Assistance Program work?
The Child Care Assistance Program can help pay child care costs for all children age 12 and younger, and for children ages 13 and 14 who have special needs. If your child is under the age of 15 and has special needs, talk to your county worker if your child care costs are higher due to your child’s special needs
Child care costs may be paid for the time you are working, looking for work, attending training or participating in activities included in your approved Minnesota Family Investment Program/Diversionary Work Program employment plan.
You must cooperate with child support for all children in families with an absent parent.
There is no time limit on how long you may receive child care assistance, as long as you meet the requirements and your income is within the program limits for your family size
Your child care must be provided by a legal provider who is at least 18 years old. For more information about selecting a provider, see the How do I choose a child care provider? section on page 3. It is important to know the rules of the Child Care Assistance Program and ask questions if you don’t understand something. Keep two important policies in mind:
Report changes in your household within 10 days from the time the change occurs. This is very important if you move to a new county and want to keep getting benefits and not have an overpayment. Changes can include the number of people living with you, your income, your address, your employment and your school schedule.
Pay the part of your child care costs that the Child Care Assistance Program does not pay. Your case might be closed if program rules are not followed.
Your social worker tells you that you will be eligible for $649 per month in SNAP benefits based on the “thrifty food plan” since you have no income and three children to feed, plus yourself.
The social worker asks you who the father of the children is, so that he can be located and ordered to pay child support.
–Third, you apply for housing assistance.
You may soon lose your apartment because you no longer have income to pay the rent. So you will need to apply for housing assistance. Here is how to do that:
The Todd County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) controls housing assistance for Todd County. It is located in Browerville, 21 miles from your home in Staples.
Here is what the HRA website says:
The housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.
The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.
Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program.
A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. This unit may include the family’s present residence. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA.
A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the PHA, a family may use its voucher to purchase a modest home
Applying for a Housing Program: the application, authorization form, and criminal release form need to be completed and submitted to a Browerville address.
For additional information about the voucher program, contact either the Todd County HRA serving your community or the Office of Public Housing within your local HUD office. There may be a long wait for assistance under the housing voucher program. If the PHA also administers the public housing program, applicants for the housing choice voucher program may also ask to be placed on the waiting list for the public housing program. HUD also administers other subsidized programs and you may obtain a list of programs in your area from the Office of Housing at your local HUD office at 1612-37-3135. http://www.co.todd.mn.us/organizations/hra/todd_county_hra#housing
Your social worker suggests that you complete the application for housing assistance. She can’t offer you any information about how long it will take before you receive approval or any assistance to pay your rent, because housing is a separate program not run by the county.
So when you reach the end of this month, you may become homeless unless you can make arrangements with the landlord to let you pay the rent late.
In case you do find an apartment through the voucher system, there are several sources of help to pay for utilities. HeatShare, Lifeline/Link-up, Stay Warm Minnesota, Weatherization Assistance Program. All of these programs require that an application form be completed.
Summing up your day at the county office:
At the end of your second day of trying to get aid, you have completed the following applications:
Combined Application Form (CAF)
HRA application form, authorization form, and criminal release form
Child Care Assistance Program
You have been told about the following waiting periods for benefits:
Unemployment benefits – three weeks
ApplyMN – one to three weeks
Combined Application Form (CAF) – immediately to one week
HRA housing voucher – there is a waiting list, unknown when you get a turn
Child Care Assistance Program – available as soon as you find a provider
You can’t apply for Medical Assistance until you find out what your unemployment benefit amount will be. So for the present, you and your children have no health insurance.
The social worker tells you that next Monday or Tuesday, you can go to the Staples Food Shelf and get food for three days, while you wait for your application for SNAP to be processed. Only one visit per month is allowed.
You ride home one hour on the Rainbow Rider bus, and make dinner for your family.
This is what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment, when you find yourself out of a job and in danger of losing your housing. You have filled out all your required applications, and will now wait one to three weeks for benefits. You may be homeless if not approved for HRA subsidized housing, or if approved but none is available.
Readers: did you know about all these requirements? Did you know what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment?
Let’s meet another person who needs help.
A 50-year-old man arrives in Minneapolis on the bus from Detroit.
You are a lifelong Detroit, Michigan resident, but have come to Minneapolis because you have some family here and they said there might be jobs at day labor places. You need to find out what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment, in case you can’t find a job right away.
Due to a plant closing, you got laid off from a warehouse job in Detroit in November of last year. You have been looking for work for 6 months, but didn’t find anything. Your Michigan unemployment benefits have run out and you’ve lost your apartment.
Your cousin meets you at the Greyhound Bus Station and takes you to his place in north Minneapolis in his car. You spend the night on his sofa.
The next day, you call AAA Labor (612-871-2505) and learn that there are lots of day jobs available immediately. Turns out, you have to apply in person at 1908 Chicago Ave between 5 AM and 5 PM, and bring your ID and Social Security number or birth certificate. Most of the jobs pay minimum wage, $9.50 per hour.
You ask your cousin how to get there and he tells you how to go there on the bus. You’ll walk to the intersection of West Broadway Ave and Penn Ave N, and take 19B Penn Ave/Olson Hwy bus to Penn Ave & 26th Ave N. Then transfer to 5E Chicago/Mall of America bus to Chicago Ave S & Franklin Ave E. Then walk north to 1908 Chicago Ave. This will cost $1.75.
When you get to the AAA Labor office, you fill out an application for work and are interviewed. You are approved for work and will start tomorrow at a warehouse job near where your cousin lives. You ride back to his place on the bus and tell his wife the good news.
After a couple of weeks of working in the warehouse 5 days per week, you get your first paycheck. It’s for $760 gross ($9.50 x 80 hours), and $530 net with taxes deducted, for the two weeks. You give your cousin $100 cash to help pay for the food you’ve been eating at their place all this time.
On Saturday, you start looking for an apartment. You can pay about $600-$700 per month, no more. All the ones you find in that price range are in St Paul. You are asked to pay a security deposit of one month’s rent, plus first and last months’ rent, which is a total of $1800 to $2100 cash, and sign a 12-month lease. But you don’t have any money except your first paycheck of $530, minus the $100 you paid your cousin for food, so you can’t get an apartment today.
Your cousin tells you that you could apply for emergency assistance to get help with the security deposit and two months’ rent at Hennepin County Human Services. Their hours are 8 to 4:30 M-F. You’re working during those hours. You ask your cousin’s wife to call them for you. She finds out that you have to apply in person for an interview.
You tell your boss at AAA Labor that you need to take a day off to apply for emergency rent assistance. He says that’s OK, but someone else will take your warehouse job. You’ll have to go to a new job when you come back to work.
So you take off the following Friday from work, and take the bus to the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. At the Human Services office, you fill out the Combined Application Form (CAF) for county aid to see if you can qualify for some emergency cash assistance to help you pay the security deposits on an apartment, and to sign up for health insurance through MnCare.
You learn that you must be in Minnesota for 30 days before your application can be accepted. You’ve been here only 20 days. The social worker puts your application on hold, telling you to come back in 10 days, and you go back to your cousin’s place on the bus.
The next day, Saturday, you go back to AAA Labor and ask for another work assignment. This time you’re sent to the Minneapolis Convention Center to help set up for a major trade show. You spend the first day there unloading trucks filled with equipment and putting up the walls of display booths for the companies that will show their goods during the convention.
That night, your cousin and his wife tell you that they need some privacy and ask if you can find another place to stay. You’ve been with them nearly four weeks, sleeping on their sofa.
Now you’re going to have to find somehwere else to go. Your cousin tells you to take the bus to Franklin Ave and Chicago Ave in Minneapolis, and walk three blocks to the Catholic Charities Opportunity Center.
A guy at work told you that you could go to an agency called Sharing and Caring Hands. You can meet with someone who could help you find a place in an emergency shelter. You have to go there Monday – Thursday from 10 – 11:30 AM to be screened for a voucher for homeless men.
On Monday, you pack your things and thank you cousin for his help. Then you get on the bus for AAA Labor. There you tell your boss that you have to find another place to stay, and won’t be able to work today. He tells you to come back as soon as you can, because you’re a good worker.
You walk a few blocks to the Catholic Charities Opportunity Center and get in line for screening for housing, meals, and medical screening.
Now you know some of what it takes to get social services benefits and unemployment, housing, and day work
Our 35-year-old woman with three children and single man, both out of work, had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get any help whatsoever. One was in rural Minnesota and one in urban Minneapolis. Both did everything that was asked of them, but after applying for help, they were left with waiting periods without food or confirmed housing.
What do you think? Do we need more requirements laid on people before they can get aid?
Let me know what you think in your comments.
My thanks to those in the social services and charitable work forces who provided information for this blog post.