Helpful government assistance programs

I'm from the Government and I'm Here to Help

by Barbara J. Sloan

Remember the old joke that included the line, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help"? While the joke highlighted the inefficiencies of big government, the truth is that there are many government assistance programs waiting to help you and me.

From educational pamphlets to scholarships to food, not to mention emergency heat and temporary financial assistance, there is plenty of help for all sorts of everyday people.

While no one can keep track of all the possibilities, here are a few ideas that I have found useful. Since many non-profit agencies, even those with religious affiliations, receive government funding in part or in total, I have included some of them. In most cases, I have used these resources for my family or myself when we were in need.

First, decide what you need. Is it money for education, general information, food, heating assistance, medical assistance or something else?

If you have a computer, use a good search engine like Google to enter key words like "scholarship" or "government health benefits." Better yet, go to the Federal Information Center at and use its search engine.

If you don't have a computer, don't worry. The kind folks at your local library's reference desk are just waiting to help you. You can call or go in. They will even help you learn to use their computers for free.

There are also many books and authors that specialize in lists of government benefits. The Lasko series often advertised on television is only one example. Just make sure that the reference is up-to-date. Government programs can and do change frequently.

Is there too much month for your food budget? Check with local government agencies like Social Services as well as faith-based groups including Catholic Family Charities, Jewish Family Services and the Salvation Army. All of them can connect you with local food pantries for emergency food supplies. Sometimes they also offer budgeting and meal planning assistance so that emergencies do not occur every month. Most will not push their own religious beliefs on you.

Do you need help understanding a government program like Medicare Part D? Call Medicare toll-free at 1-800-MEDICARE. If you prefer face-to-face help, check with your community-based Senior Center. It probably has a social worker that will help you free of charge. Other groups like the American Association of Retired People (AARP) can also connect you with services you need. Some states also maintain medical assistance hotlines and advocacy programs for disabled and elderly persons. In my home state of Connecticut, CHOICES is the Medicare helpline. It has a toll-free number.

Perhaps you need medications that cost more than you can afford. Many pharmaceutical companies give people free or greatly cost-reduced medications upon proof of inability to pay. Some of these companies belong to a consortium called Partnership for Prescription Assistance. You can reach them by calling 1-888-477-2669 or visiting the website at To find more patient assistance programs, talk to your doctor or enter "prescription medicine assistance" in a computer search engine.

When I was too ill to work, my doctor asked several companies to provide medication at no cost to me, and they did! Doctors also receive many sample medications. Don't be afraid to ask for them. If you do not use them, the samples will be given to someone else or discarded when they expire.

From local non-profit agencies in some states to health departments in others, almost every community has some sort of visiting nurse association. If you need help accessing health care programs, they can usually assist you.

In my community, the VNA also serves as a one-stop center to help isolated seniors and others that may be in need of extra help, but have no one close to help them. Anonymous calls to the VNA trigger the offer of a free visit from a social worker to assess what a senior or disabled person may need to maintain or regain good health and remain at home.

Be sure not to overlook a wonderful computer website at, where you can find assistance that is available in your area. You simply fill in a few blanks, and then the website searches your area for possible assistance. You can then contact each program to find out if you are eligible. If you are not computer literate, ask your reference librarian to help you.

Do you need affordable daycare for your children so that you can work? Some towns sponsor their own sliding scale daycare centers. I know mine does.

Some states, including Connecticut where I live, have a free referral hotline. We just dial 211 for Infoline and a social worker helps us identify the services we need. Check your local phone book or library to see if this service is offered where you live.

If you cannot find what you need, another possible source of help is your local Congressperson. Each Representative employs social workers who can help constituents find the help they need. This service costs you nothing more than the taxes you already pay.

This is just a sampling of services offered by the government and the non-profit agencies they help to fund. A good reference librarian, school counselor or social worker can help you identify programs to meet your needs in your local area.

Barbara J. Sloan, M.Ed., formerly managed government agencies and developed and managed non-profit social service agencies in two states. She now writes about financial, social, health and other issues.

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