How to Be Poor in America - Resource guide for Spoonies & People with Chronic Illness

How to Be Poor in America - Resource guide for Spoonies & People with Chronic Illness

Welcome. This is a little financial survival guide for people with CFS / ME and other spoon-limited friends.

It may please you to know that you do not need to be on Disability to qualify for most of the programs on this page.

pink.jpg FOOD

If you were turned down for food stamps, or if you are not getting enough food stamps to make it through the month, there are some special regs that may help you out: How to Get Enough Food Stamps to Actually Eat

Many areas have food banks that offer free groceries. National food bank directory.

Meals on Wheels and home meal programs offer free or low cost meals in many areas. Some programs are restricted to seniors, but others will serve anyone who is homebound or has difficulty leaving their home.

Contact your local area agency on aging and they can hook you up.

pink.jpg TRANSPORT

If you are having trouble getting to the doctor, or getting around town, or getting across the country, here are a few programs that might help: How To Get a Free Ride

If you are on Medicaid, they can offer free taxis or transport to doctor appointments.

Para-transit services are the bomb. At least the one in my area is really great. And really cheap.

Amtrak gives a 15% discount to people with disabilities, plus a traveling companion.

Some areas offer transportation discounts to people with disabilities: ID cards, driver's licenses, bus and subway fares, and parking. Inquire with your local transit authority and your local Department of Motor Vehicles.

pink.jpg HOUSEHOLD

Some companies offer low cost internet for people who are low-income. Programs vary by state. Check out: AT&T Access, Comcast, and Century link. I know someone who was very happy with the AT&T service. I looked into Century link, but it was not actually that great a deal for my situation. Please also check internet providers in your area, as there may be other businesses that offer this service.

In my area, the social service agency offers free trash stickers. But they don't tell you this. You just have to know to ask. Do they do this other places? Please let me know.

Don’t learn this the hard way like I did. Here’s How To Get a Free Phone That Doesn’t Suck If you are hearing impaired, you can also get free amplified phone equipment (see

Most communities have other programs that help low-income people. Dial 2-1-1 on your phone and ask what is available.

pink.jpg UTILITIES

Many utility companies, including electric, gas, phone, water and trash services offer discounts to customers who are disabled, elderly or low income. Contact your utility company and ask.

Your local social services agency offers utilities assistance through Liheap. Most people already know this. What you may not know: There are often three different utility programs: Winter, Summer, and Emergency. If you need all three, apply three times every year.

Here's something else you probably don't know about Liheap: If you are living with a caregiver, they will not count the caregiver's salary. This is an obscure little rule that your Liheap caseworker probably won't know. You'll need to research it and point it out. If you got turned down in the past, try again using this rule. It works!

Most communities have other programs that help low-income people with utilities. Dial 2-1-1 on your phone and ask what is available.

pink.jpg HOME CARE

If your disabling condition is very severe and a friend, loved one or family member is providing personal care for you, you may be able to get pay for the person who is caring for you.

If you are homebound, check out How To Be Homebound

pink.jpg MEDICAL

If you are on Medicare, you may be charged a lot of co-pays for medical visits, plus your disability check will be lowered by about $100 per month to pay Medicare premiums. Don't worry, you have options. How to Escape Medicare Fees

If you are having trouble qualifying for Medicaid: How To Get On Medicaid Even if You Can’t Get On Medicaid

If you can't afford a doctor or lab tests: How to Get to the Doctor When You Can’t Get to the Doctor

If you can't afford meds: How To Be Broke & Medicated

pink.jpg HOUSING

There are lots of ways to get cheap rent. So many ways, that this article was getting too long and I had to create a whole separate article on How To Get Cheap Rent.

Most cities and counties offer real estate tax relief for the elderly or disabled. Some also offer rent relief. Check with your local government tax and property assessors office.

If you are working, you can save money to buy a first house in an IDA. It is matching program. Every time you put in one dollar, they put in one dollar. If you are on SSI, and IDA can also keep your disability check from being reduced.


If you have a mental health diagnosis and history of homelessness, many Supportive Housing programs are GREAT!!! I can't seem to find any kind of national link, so I don't know what to tell you here. Try googling the name of your state or city and the words "Supportive Housing" or "Supported Housing."

If you have a mental health diagnosis and you are currently homeless or at risk for becoming homeless, contact The Amazing SOAR Program to see if they are in your area. They can help get disability applications approved quickly for people who are homeless and disabled.

Many other places have already created lists of homeless resources, so no need to reinvent

pink.jpg DEBT

If you are on disability and have debt, you may have some options. Learn more about Credit Cards, Medical Bills, Debt Collectors & Disability Checks

This page is not very good. Help me improve it: How to Get Tax Breaks for Disabilities

This page is good. Read it: How To Escape The Crushing Weight of Student Loans


National parks give free lifetime passes to people on disability. America The Beautiful Access Pass

Many movie theaters, museums, and parks allow an caregiver to get in free if you are in a wheelchair (ask)

Many parks, zoos, amusement parks, beaches, fishing licenses, and other recreational activities offer disability discounts. Some of these places also offer special parking areas and other accommodations (such as reduced wait time for lines). Be sure to inquire at Guest Services/Relations before you go. And always ask about available discounts because many parks don’t publicize them.

If you are disabled, the Library of Congress will send you free books on tape. Back in the days before internet, I used to love this service more than anything. Now it seems kind of quaint and obscure.


Here's How to Apply for Social Security Disability

Social Security is not the only game in town. Here's How to Apply for Other Kinds of Disability


Many people (wrongly!!!) think that they cannot get any help until after they are approved for Social Security. No, no, no. There are bunches of other things you can apply for.

If you are willing to plan ahead, be creative and reach out for help, there are many more ways to survive while applying for disability.


If you are on SSI, please please please learn How to Stay Out of Hot Water with SSI. It will save you a world of heartache down the road.

If you think your check may be lower then it should be, check out: Ten Common Reasons an SSI Check Might Be Low

If you are on SSDI, hopefully you have already done this, but just in case.... You can collect extra benefits for your kids (including kids who don't live with you) and sometimes for the parents of your kids. Important: This will not happen automatically. You must sign them up. I have seen people throw away $10,000+ by not knowing they could do this.

Pause for station identification: SSI and SSDI are different programs. If you don't know what you are on, look here: How to Tell What You’re On

pink.jpg WORKING

If you are working and on SSI, Social Security will allow you to put your money in a PASS plan or certain kinds of IDA accounts and this stops your SSI check from being lowered. This works for sure with all PASS plans. With IDA accounts it depends on the program, please research carefully.

Off topic, but since I am writing about working, I feel it is responsible for me to write: If you are on disability planning to work, you should know medical reviews will be harder to pass. Also, sometimes work incentives like PASS plans and Ticket to Work look a lot better on the outside than on the inside.

pink.jpg MORE

Need Help Paying Bills is a fantabulous site for everything in the world. But it is slightly outdated. Weirdly, it includes almost no website links. If you see a program you are interested in: Google.

HUD Links to food banks, diaper banks, AIDS/HIV housing, homeless services and more

If your check seems low and you don't know why or if anything will change it, it may be worth looking into: How Come My Check is So Low?


Please comment below. Tell me everything I don't know about and everything that is missing from this list.
Kit Cat
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