Emergency financial assistance programs and financial help for families in need are there for a reason – let me show you how to get the emergency financial help that you need.
Anyone who has found themselves in an emergency situation – with little money to pay for it – knows fear.
Financial security is a basic human need, and when you have a family you’re also supporting, not being able to pay your bills after a natural disaster, or being unable to make your rent payment, or any other number of emergencies can quickly bring you to your breaking point.
I often get emails from people desperate to get financial help for families in need, and things like emergency rental assistance, grants for single moms, and all kinds of situations.
So, I decided to create this epic resource guide for how to find the emergency financial assistance you need.
First up, we’ll discuss how you can qualify for emergency cash assistance. Then, we’ll dive into specific forms of emergency assistance that you can apply for.
And stick around to the end, when I go through ways you can get cash from your own resources in case you don’t qualify for any of resources listed below.
How Do I Qualify for Emergency Cash Assistance?
Qualifying for emergency cash assistance can be based on several things:
- What kind of emergency you’re facing.
- What your income is (usually within a percentage of the federal poverty guidelines).
- Your ability to be able to “get back on your feet” and pay your bills after you've been given the assistance (this varies from program-to-program, fyi).
Each program below has it's own, specific qualifications you'll need to meet — so be sure to click through for more information.
In the meantime, let’s go over the different categories of emergency cash assistance so that you get a better understanding of the types of aid you can qualify for:
- Housing Emergencies: Emergency rental assistance and grants available for people facing Notice of Evictions, pending homelessness, and even help with paying the security deposit/first month’s rent on a new apartment. Rent grants are just like any other type of grant – they do not need to be repair, and they’re just for a set period of time (or a set amount of money).
- Utility Emergencies: Emergency utility bill assistance can help in cases where your utilities are going to be shutoff (or are already shutoff) due to not paying your bills.
- Medical Emergencies: People face medical emergencies every day, and can need help both in paying huge sums of money to get the treatment they need to extend their life, and in paying medical bills in collection after the fact. In fact, medical bankruptcies account for 66.5% of all bankruptcies filed in the U.S.
- Natural Disasters: Hurricanes, flooding (here's an in-depth guide to flood insurance), tornados, tidal waves, earthquakes, mudslides, storms, explosions, etc. are natural disasters that can cause the need for emergency financial assistance. If it’s a major event that occurs, affecting many lives, then oftentimes a Disaster Declaration will be made so that emergency funds can be released from the government to help family’s immediate financial and life needs. The two types of disaster declarations are emergency declarations and major disaster declarations. For example, after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the President declared a major disaster declaration. Part of that resulted in the release of flood emergency housing assistance from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Now, it’s time to dive into actual resources for each of these types of emergencies. I’ll provide both national resources that you can apply for no matter where you live, plus emergency financial assistance for the 10 most populated cities in the U.S.
Psst: you'll also want to check out my article on ways to earn extra cash from home.
Housing Emergencies – Emergency Rental Assistance and Grants
If you’re facing an eviction, or have already been evicted (with either a 3-day Eviction Notice or a 30-day Eviction Notice), then you’ll want to go through the resources below as soon as possible to get the emergency financial assistance you need.
Note: There are several emergency housing assistance resources available to everyone, nationally. But to be honest, if you are in an emergency situation (like about to be evicted), I would try local help, first, or the national charities. I say this because many of these national government programs have wait times, whereas the local programs (some of which are listed below) can get you financial help for renters and homeowners more urgently.
National Resources for Emergency Housing Assistance
A great place to start your search is through 211.org, which will locate local sources of utility emergency assistance needs for you.
Did you know that your local chapter of the Salvation Army can help with a one-time rental assistance program an emergency? Emergency assistance from your local Salvation Army can help with rent/mortgage, utility bills, medicine, food, clothing, transportation, and more.
Catholic Charities USA also provides housing assistance throughout the U.S., and you can find the nearest one near you here.
You can apply for a Modest Needs Self-Sufficiency Grant.
You want to contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for help with mortgage advice (it says little or no cost to you, so there could be a fee to help with this).
To help with avoiding a foreclosure, you’ll want to contact Hud.gov to hear about the various modification and refinancing options you have to bring your mortgage payment down. Unemployed? You can contact the Home Affordable Unemployment Program to see if you can have a temporary reduction or suspension of your mortgage payments (for at least 12 months), or the FHA Special Forbearance program if you have an FHA loan.
You can receive reduced rents in an apartment by applying through HUD.gov, or low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities may be able to get public housing at a reduced cost.
The Rural Rental Assistance Program helps low-income families whose rent exceeds 30% of their income to get an apartment at a reduced rate.
Finally, even though it’s not an emergency assistance program, it’s worth noting that the Wells Fargo NeighborhoodLIFT program – which gives people up to $15,000 for a down payment and closing costs – is available in Alabama, California, District of Columbia, Maryland, Mississippi, and Texas.
Another program is Zillow’s Community Portal, which puts you in touch with landlords willing to rent to people with low incomes, low credit scores, and facing other barriers to getting into an apartment.
Specific Major City Resources for Emergency Housing Assistance
If you live in one of the 10 most populated cities in the U.S., then check below for specific, local resources to help you with your financial help for renters and to help with your housing situation.
New York City: New York City government has rental assistance programs specifically to help people move from shelters into their own home. You’ll want to go through The Department of Social Services and the Department of Homeless services to see if you qualify. You can also apply for rental assistance through a Homebase or Housing Assistance Program (HAP) location (specifically, there’s a CityFHEPS program). Low-income renters can also get free legal assistance when dealing with landlord issues. The Center for Urban Community Services offers assistance, such as transitional housing, and there’s also the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement and Emergency Cash Grants for emergency housing assistance. Also, give the Living in Communities (LINC) a try, because they help subsidize monthly rent payments for low income families, and victims of domestic abuse.
Los Angeles: Check with the Department of Social Services for rent assistance (they have a Moving Assistance Program, 4-Month Rental Assistance Program, Temporary Housing Assistance Program, and the Emergency Assistance to Prevent Eviction – EAPE – program, and others), as well as PATH Beyond Shelter, and Volunteers of America of Los Angeles. The One Voice Family Assistance Program can help with rent, and you can also contact Angelic Assistance (phone number: 626-383-6024), or the Unity of Life Foundation.
Chicago: Chicago’s six community centers are where you can apply for a one-time rental emergency rental assistance program. Chicago’s Coalition for the Homeless can help with paying security deposits or first month’s rent, and check out The Inner Voice non-profit and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago for help, as well. Also try the Homelessness Prevention Call Center, which can provide grants in a crisis. The Illinois Department of Human Services is another place offering emergency rental assistance. The Illinois Housing Development Authority offers grants to help with home repairs.
Houston: For emergency rental assistance – Houston TX, check out the Gulf Coast Community Services Association. Salvation Army Houston rental assistance is located here. You can make an appointment at the charity, MamHouston, for rent or utility assistance. Avenue360.org has a list of Houston programs to help with rental assistance. Also, there’s a fantastic list of a huge number of emergency financial assistance resources found here (only issue? It was last updated on 2014).
Phoenix: Phoenix offers three Family Service Centers located around the city, where you can get help with things like Emergency Utility assistance, Rental Assistance, Eviction Prevention, and Move-In Assistance. You can call the Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest at 480-654-4539 for information on rent assistance. Azcend offers eviction prevention help (along with several others).
Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services has a great list of places to help if you’re facing eviction. Uesfacts.org, which has a goal of housing stabilization for low-income families, partners with Philadelphia Works to provide rental/mortgage and security deposit assistance. Also, you can check out the Emergency Shelter Allowance Program (ESA), and the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
San Antonio: The San Antonio Housing Authority offers several programs, such as homeless vouchers. You also want to check out Housing Authority Bexar County programs, such as the Family Self Sufficiency Program. Here’s a list of San Antonio’s Homeless Services, and you might want to check out Haven for Hope as well. Here’s further listings of San Antonio mortgage payment help. SAMMinistries offers limited utility help (35 people can get the help each week). Alamo Area Resource Center offers both mortgage and rental payment assistance.
San Diego: San Diego’s Community Action Partnership has a place to apply for rental assistance. They also have a General Relief program where you can get cash; however, it will need to be repaid. Here’s a list of rent payment assistance programs for San Diego. South Bay Community Services offers emergency rental assistance to those with 3-day or 30-day eviction notices.
Dallas: The Housing Crisis Center’s Rapid Rehousing program can help get you into a home at a significantly reduced cost to your family. Homebase for Housing can help with back payments on rent and mortgage. North Dallas Shared Ministries can help with emergency utility payments. Dallas City Hall’s Fresh Start Housing Assistance Program offers rental and mortgage assistance. The White Rock Center of Hope can provide rent assistance once every 12 months to help families avoid eviction.
San Jose: Sacred Heart Community Service offers rental assistance (past-due rent and rental deposits). Check out St. Joseph’s Family Center for emergency rental assistance. Contact Sunnyvale Community Services for one-time emergency aid (if you’re a Sunnyvale resident).
Utility Emergencies – Emergency Help with Electric Bill
Below, you’ll find both national and local nonprofit organizations that help pay bills to keep your electricity on.
If you’re desperate for money to pay bills – a real emergency situation — then I’d try the charities and local organizations before trying for federal government help, as there can be waiting lines for those that you might be able to get around.
National Resources for Emergency Utility Assistance
The federally-funded, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) helps homeowners and renters with energy costs between the months of November and March for heating, and between the months of May and August for cooling. To be able to apply, you need to have received a disconnect notice.
Specific Major City Resources for Emergency Utility Assistance
New York City: Try the Emergency Cash Grants from NYU One Shot Deal for help with energy costs. You can also try the Utility Assistance Program (UAP) (phone number is 212-331-3150 for the heat line), and NYC’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). Central Hudson Gas & Electric’s Good Neighbor Fund provides funds to pay energy bills as a last resort for people. Consolidated Edison, Long Island Power Authority, National Fuel Gas, PSEG Long Island, National Grid, and Orange and Rockland Utilities all offer some type of bill assistance program. Finally, you might want to check out the HeartShare Program for utility bill emergency assistance.
Los Angeles: The Housing Authority of City of Los Angeles offers utility allowance vouchers as emergency utility assistance. Check out both The One Voice Family Assistance Program, St. Margaret’s Center, and the Unity of Life Foundation, as well.
Chicago: The Illinois Department of Human Services is another place offering emergency utility bill assistance. Check here for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago’s emergency utility repair grants, and keep your eye on this page for grants to help with emergency heating repairs and weatherization to reduce your future utility bills. Households who qualify for the Share the Warmth program can get up to a $200 grant towards their heating bill through People’s Gas. Also, check with your utility provider to see if they participate in the Good Samaritan Initiative. You can also apply for energy assistance through Ameren’s Warm Neighbors Cool Friends program, and ComEd’s Residential Hardship Program. Finally, check out the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF).
Houston: For emergency utility assistance – Houston TX, check out the Gulf Coast Community Services Association. You can make an appointment at the charity, MamHouston, for rent or utility assistance. You can also check out the Northwest Assistance Ministries, Baker Ripley’s Utility Assistance Program, West Houston Assistance Ministries’ Care Ministry, the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program (CEAP), and try your individual energy provider’s website for an assistance program, like Reliant Energy’s Care Program.
Phoenix: Phoenix offers three Family Service Centers located around the city, where you can get Emergency Utility assistance. You can call the Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest at 480-654-4539 for information on utility assistance. Church of the Master has limited utility funds to disburse to families in need each month. The City of Peoria offers assistance programs for utilities, water, as well as emergency home repairs. Azcend offers a utility assistance program (along with several others).
Philadelphia: Check out Uesfacts.org, which provides financial assistance to low-income families and individuals who are either facing utility termination, or who have already had their utilities shut off. They also have an oil assistance program, and a water assistance program. Local utility companies match each dollar that UESF can give you. Go here to see if you meet eligibility requirements (such as your total household income must be at or below 175% of the federal poverty guidelines). You can also get free minor emergency repairs (such as to your heater). Check out PA’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for a cash grant to help pay your heating costs, and if you’re elderly, PCA’s Emergency Fund for Older Philadelphians. Check out the Emergency Assistance and Response Unit, as well as the PA’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).
San Antonio: Get assistance with your utility bills through Bexar County’s Energy Assistance Program. Check out CPS Energy’s WARM program and REAP program, as well as San Antonio Water System’s Affordability Program. Here’s further listings of utility assistance in San Antonio. SAMMinistries offers limited utility help (40 people can get the help each week). Alamo Area Resource Center offers utility payment assistance.
San Diego: San Diego’s Health and Human Services has a General Relief program where you can get cash; however, it will need to be repaid when you are back on your feet. Imperial County residents can get utility assistance through Calexico Neighborhood House.
Dallas: Homebase for Housing can help with back payments on utilities. North Dallas Shared Ministries can help with emergency utility payments. Dallas City Hall’s Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program also can help with utilities. The White Rock Center of Hope can provide utility assistance once every 12 months to families in need.
San Jose: Sacred Heart Community Service offers a NON-emergency utilities assistance program (Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)) that can award from $173 to $289 each calendar year (which can take up to 6-8 weeks to go through). If you qualify for HEAP, then you can also apply for weatherization programs that can decrease your future utility bills. You can apply for a 20% discount on utility costs through PG&E’s Care Program. And through the Water Demand Reduction Program, all City of Watsonville can get low-flow faucets and other water-conserving items installed free of charge to reduce your future water bills. Check out St. Joseph’s Family Center for emergency utility assistance.
Medical Emergencies – Help Paying Medical Bills in Collections (and Treatments)
Looking for nonprofit organizations to help pay bills you have from medical conditions, or even help paying medical bills in collections?
National Resources for Emergency Medical Bill Assistance
National emergency medical bill assistance resources include:
- HealthWellFoundation.org: These guys assist in helping underinsured patients pay make copays, premiums, meet deductibles, as well as help them cover out-of-pocket expenses like medical supplies, supplements for treatments, and surgeries. They’re partly funded by specific disease funds, so you’ll need to have one of the following illnesses in order to qualify (currently, there are 34 conditions). You also must have some form of health insurance to qualify.
- RipMedicalDebt.org: This is a really cool charity that pays off people’s medical debts for them. They generally source their own medical debt bills to lovingly pay off, but you can also join their registry to get on the list.
- Charity Care Programs: You may be able to get free or very discounted hospital care through a hospital’s charity care program. Be sure to talk with their financial counselor or advisor to see if you qualify.
- PanFoundation.org: This organization helps people with life-threatening, chronic and rare diseases pay their out-of-pocket costs like medication co-pay, insurance premiums, and travel assistance, regardless of what type of insurance coverage you have.
- CancerCare.org: Need help with treatment copays, transportation costs, and childcare costs for your cancer treatments? These guys offer limited financial support. Also, check out their searchable database for local resources that can help you further.
- Crowdsource Your Medical Treatment Bills: You can try to set up a medical bill campaign on crowdsourcing sites, such as YouCaring, GoFundMe’s Medical Fund Area, and PlumFund.
- National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics: You can search this database to find free and charitable clinics that can help you with future medical treatments.
- Charities: Go to this site, and look for charities that help with medical bills.
Hint: you’ll also want to check out my articles on how to save on prescription drugs, how to negotiate a medical bill over the phone, and Scared about Cancer Bankruptcy? How one woman survived both her diagnosis, and bankruptcy.
Specific Major City Resources for Emergency Medical Bill Assistance
New York City: Check out Consumer Health Advocates to get help with medical bills in New York City. If you’re an artist in need of medical treatment, be sure to check out Bellevue’s Artist Access Program. Here’s a link to Charity Care for New York-Presbyterian.
Chicago: People’s Gas natural gas company offers help with utilities for those paying large medical bills. You’ll also want to check out Illinois Charity Care and Financial Assistance information.
Houston: Are you uninsured and need medical treatment? Try San Jose Clinic, and The Rose, both of which provides treatment for uninsured people. You’ll also want to check out Harris Health’s Financial Assistance Program.
Philadelphia: Here’s a great resource list of possible medical bill assistance.
San Diego: The Patient Aid Program offers emergency financial assistance to blood cancer patients in active treatment. You can also apply for a SAFE grant to try and get funding for doctor’s bills you owe money on (as well as various other bills).
Dallas: The Housing Crisis Center of Dallas has the ACE program to help head of households with mental conditions and substance abuse find permanent housing. You can also get medical assistance, regardless of your ability to pay, through the Foremost Family Health Centers.
San Jose: You can get routine medical and dental checkups free through the San Jose City Team. Learn about financial assistance programs for medical treatments from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Emergency Financial Help for Veterans
In addition to the various emergency financial resources from above, there is also specific emergency financial help for Veterans.
The Help for Homeless Veterans Hotline number is: 1-877-424-3838. This can help if you are a homeless Veteran, or if you are at risk of becoming homeless.
National Resources for Emergency Financial Assistance for Veterans
For national emergency financial assistance for veterans, try the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, which can put you in touch with local veteran resources to help. You can find local centers that received the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP) grant here.
The HUD-VASH program is designed specifically to help Veterans and their families find permanent homes and come out of housing crisis through transitional housing grants and per diem payments, etc.
You can check out the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
While not emergency funds, it’s worth noting that Wells Fargo’s The NeighborhoodLIFT program provides eligible homebuyers with up to $17,500 in down payment and closing costs assistance for veterans.
Specific Major City Resources for Veteran Emergency Aid
New York City: You’ll want to go to NYC’s Veteran Services, as well as NYC’s America Serves websites for more information.
Los Angeles: Check out the VOALA for rental and housing assistance.
Chicago: Try the Community Action Agency of Cook County for transitional housing assistance. CEDA offers free assistance to male veterans transitioning from homelessness to transitional housing. And Inner Voice offers veterans a Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program.
Phoenix: Helping Hands for Freedom offers emergency financial assistance such as mortgage/lease payments, car payments, and utility bills for certain veterans.
Philadelphia: UESF.org works with Veterans who are either homeless or about to lose their homes by helping with landlord negotiations, VA benefit assistance, and temporary financial assistance. Also, check out the Veterans Multi-Service Center (specifically, here’s a link for housing assistance) for help.
San Antonio: Here’s a listing of some Veteran emergency help in San Antonio.
San Diego: You’ll want to check out San Diego’s Community Action Partnership for Veteran financial assistance. Airforce Aid Society offers emergency financial assistance to eligible Airforce Veterans and their families. You can also check out the American Legion’s Heroes to Hometown program for financial help. If you’ve endured a national disaster, then turn to Operation Homefront for financial assistance.
Dallas: The Community Learning Center’s (CLC) COIN program assist Veterans with rental/mortgage help, childcare costs, auto repairs, and utility payments. They also have a grant to help Veterans with home repairs. Chronically ill and homeless Veterans can get help through the Dallas Housing Crisis Center. You can also contact TexVet.org.
San Jose: Here is Santa Clara County’s Veteran Services website. If you’re an injured Veteran, then you’ll want to check out VSSAinc.org. And here is Santa Clara’s HomeFirst program to help with emergency housing assistance.
How Can I Get Help with Bills – Your Own Resources
If you’re financially strapped for cash from a medical issue, losing a job, losing benefits, taking a pay cut, etc., then there are many ways that you can get cash fast that will leave you WORSE off in the future.
These options include things like:
- Payday loans typically charge $15 per $100 borrowed, or upwards of 390% APR
- Taking cash from a traditional IRA plan you have diligently stashed money into for years can deplete your earnings quickly because of a 10% penalty most will incur to do so, as well as having to claim that money as income for the upcoming tax season.
- Borrowing from friends and family seems like a good idea because it keeps you out of the hands of strangers who will usually charge more interest, and be less lenient in repayment; however, you risk damaging your relationship with that person. And charging everything to a credit card with average rates of 15.94% is a costly option.
So, what’s a healthier way to get cash fast?
I’ll leave you with a few ideas.
Note: Several of these options should be left as a last resort, when other options have been exhausted. I’ll start with the least damaging and head towards the more financially damaging ideas.
Last-Resort Option #1: Carpool Using Your Car
Start looking at your car as a money-maker. Find someone you work with who needs to carpool, and establish what your carpool buddy will pay (presumably half of the gas bill, and possibly a little extra for wear and tear on your vehicle). You can potentially start collecting a little money in a week!
If you do not know of a co-worker that lives near you, you can go here to find other people who live near you and are looking to carpool, or put an ad in craigslist/ local paper.
Last-Resort Option #2: Request a Balance Transfer from your Credit Card
This option is typically only available to people with good to excellent credit scores.
Request a balance transfer from your credit card (not a cash advance), to capitalize on your credit limit by moving part of your credit card charge limit to another card. The amount of balance transfer that you move to another card will be written out as a check to you.
In other words, you get a check for the amount of the balance transfer, and the debt is now incurred on another credit card that you own. If you transfer this new debt to another card with a promotional 0% interest for 6-12 months, and pay off the amount of the balance transfer within that time period, then you have gotten yourself a free loan to get you through a rough patch.
Assess your situation, and make sure that you can pay all, or a substantial amount, of this money down within the 6 to 12-month period.
Otherwise, you may be looking at upwards of 20% interest on your balance transfer.
Last-Resort Option #3: Take a Loan from Your 401(k)
If you have a 401(k) plan with your employer, then you can take a loan out from it. It’s not recommended, as you’ll have to pay it back. But when you’re stuck in an emergency and there no other options? Then this one could be a good one.
I hope s much that these resources provide great financial help for struggling families and people in need. Please let us know below of any emergency financial assistance programs you’ve been successfully approved for, and whether you know of any others I haven’t included.
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