Needing money in an emergency and not being able to lay your hands on it can be the worst kind of stress. In fact, GoFundMe has cited a 2020 survey indicating that many Americans are more concerned about paying their bills during the coronavirus pandemic than they are about contracting the virus. But cash and other types of assistance are available relatively quickly, both in 2020 and during more stable economic times.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Most counties have assistance offices where you can apply for Temporary Aid for Needy Families, commonly known as TANF. This service provides food stamps, medical assistance and cash assistance, which is usually paid monthly. You must apply for child support to qualify if you have a child and you and their other parent don't live together.
TANF only covers families for five years and you can't renew your benefits after this time, but exceptions exist if you can establish hardship or disability. And some localities have special programs to step in when those five years expire, such as New York's Safety Net Program.
Processing Times and Waiting Periods
Most states do not have waiting periods for assistance, and some departments, such as in Washington state, are obligated by statute to begin processing applications as soon as they receive them. But approval can nonetheless take up to 30 days. The clock begins ticking in Washington the day after you submit your application. Another 30 days can pass, however, if the agency requires additional information from you for approval.
The good news is that you can have cash in hand as soon as the next business day after approval, although this might vary somewhat by state. Washington provides cash assistance on EBT cards, and the cards are loaded monthly by 6 a.m. on the first day of the month thereafter. Food benefits are loaded onto cards over the course of the first 20 days of the month. That's a separate benefit.
Other Help Is Available
Waiting until the first of the month or whenever your state's services pay out can seem impossible if you have a pressing, immediate need, but other services are available. For example, New York provides emergency cash grants if your utilities are about to be shut off for non-payment, or if you're about to be evicted because you couldn't come up with the rent.
Feeding America runs approximately 200 food banks. You can reach out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for other food resources that are closer to you if Feeding America doesn't operate in your area.
Emergency Rental Assistance Programs
Some churches help pay rent. Catholic Charities USA provides rental assistance, and Modest Needs helps with short-term emergency situations.
Help During COVID-19
Most of these programs are in overdrive in 2020 as they assist people struggling with cash shortages during the COVID-19 crisis. They're generally not open to the public during this time, but they're still up and running, and many have taken special measures to help people. You'll probably have to reach out by phone or online, however.
Some, like New York's Human Resources Administration, have indicated that they will not cut off or limit cash benefits you're already receiving for any reason, such as if you would normally be required to recertify to continue receiving help.
Connecticut's Governor has ordered that anyone who owes rent in that state for the month of May 2020 has two extra months to pay, but you do have to notify your landlord in writing that you want to take advantage of this break by the ninth day after your rent is due. California and New York have issued similar orders, and many states have ordered that utilities can't be shut off during this time either, including California, New York, Texas and Connecticut.
Reach out to your local utility companies, your landlord or your state services or housing assistance programs to find out what's available in your location if you need help paying rent to avoid eviction.
- PALawHelp.org: Cash Assistance – What You Need to Know
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Time Limits for Processing
- NYC Human Resources Administration: Cash Assistance
- CTLawHelp.org: Information About Coronavirus
- United Way: How to Cover Your Rent
- The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division: Emergency Assistance and Homelessness Prevention
- GoFundMe: Where to Find Financial Help During the Coronavirus
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Electronic Benefit Transfer
- 211: Help Starts Here