From the LRRC Case Files - Week 7


Moshe Korn had a well-paying job in the technology industry, earning $120k a year. His wife works at a chessed organization and earns an annual salary of $20k. Unfortunately, the company Moshe worked for recently merged with a larger firm, and Moshe was told that his position was being eliminated. He was given two weeks' notice. With little income, six young children and a sluggish economy, Moshe knew that he would need some help until he found another suitable job.

Question: What governmental assistance is Moshe eligible to receive until he finds another job?

Answer: We live in a pretty amazing country. In the not-too-distant past, Moshe and his family would have been faced with the specter of literally starving. The United States of America has gone to great lengths to ensure there is a safety net for people as they struggle to get back on their feet. The following are several governmental assistance programs that Moshe should apply for immediately:

Unemployment insurance: Because Moshe was fired and did not quit, he is probably eligible to receive unemployment insurance. Depending on a number of factors, unemployment insurance can provide up to 60% of a person's former weekly salary for up to 26 weeks. It is important to file for unemployment right away, as the benefits are not retroactive.

Heath insurance: When a person is laid off, he/she is often offered insurance through COBRA. COBRA allows laid-off individuals to keep their current insurance as long as they pay for the entire policy. Buying insurance through COBRA is a good option for people suffering from medical issues who must keep their current specialists. For many people, however, COBRA is unnecessary and expensive.

The other option is to sign up for NJ FamilyCare. Many people have a conception that private insurance is somehow better than NJ FamilyCare. While those who require specific therapies or treatments (e.g. fertility treatments) are often better served by buying private insurance, NJ FamilyCare is a great option for most people. Many doctors in our area accept NJ FamilyCare, making NJ FamilyCare just as good as, if not better than, many private insurance plans.

Tip: When you apply for NJ FamilyCare, you will be asked to select an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization). NJ FamilyCare offers five possible HMO's, and each one has its own network of doctors. It is important to call your doctors before you sign up for a plan to find out which HMO they accept. It is also important to know that if you do not pick an HMO yours elf, NJ FamilyCare will select an HMO for you at random ' possibly leaving you in the lurch.

Section 8 (aka HUD): Section 8 provides rental and housing assistance. Unfortunately, its budget is fully allocated and HUD offices are currently not accepting new applicants. The LRRC maintains an e-mail and text list to inform our clients when a HUD office opens its waiting list. Let us know if you would like to be added to the list.

SNAP (aka Food Stamps): With a total income of $20k, Moshe's family is definitely eligible for SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits are awarded based on income and family size ' the larger the family, the more benefits awarded.

HEAP and USF: Both of these programs offer low-income families with assistance with paying their utility bills. HEAP provides a one-time yearly benefit to help with heating costs. USF provides a monthly credit of up to $150 towards your gas and electric bills. There are also various other programs for air conditioning and assistance with making your home more weather-efficient.

NJ SHARES: NJ SHARES provides assistance to low-income households by paying a portion of their utility bills if they are at risk of a shutoff. NJ SHARES has two separate programs:

A one-time emergency assistance grant for gas and electric bills with a maximum total of $1,200 ($700 towards past gas bills and $500 towards past electric bills). This program is offered to families whose income is too high for HEAP/USF. Financial assistance with water bills. This water grant helps families who have fallen behind on their water bills to catch up. It is important to note that both of these programs for NJ Shares have different income guidelines.

WIC: WIC provides supplemental nutrition programs for low income pregnant/nursing mothers and children up to the age of five.

Lifeline: Lifeline provides phone services for low-income families. Recipients have the option to choose either a basic landline through Verizon with unlimited minutes or a cell phone with 350 minutes, unlimited text, and 500MB of data.

Tip: The phones given by the lifeline program are not 'TAG-able.' However, TAG offers the ability to buy a kosher phone that is compatible with the lifeline carriers.

Top tips from Mr. Birnhack - Senior Case Worker and Programs Director

Key skills:

  • Comprehensive and detailed understanding of all available programs, including intricate details based on years of intensive research.
  • The go-to case worker for the most complex and difficult situations including disability and illness.

Oftentimes, I meet with clients that make assumptions that what they heard years ago in terms of eligibility and guidelines for programs remain the same for as long as they are receiving benefits. Some examples of current misconceptions based on past rules that have changed are that Medicaid offers an Extension program, NJ FamilyCare disregards child care costs, and NJ FamilyCare has unearned income limits.

Program rules are complicated and ever-changing. In order to be well informed and compliant with current rules, I strongly recommend that you go to our website from time-to-time to obtain our most recent brochures in order to get up-to-date on the current guidelines. Alternatively, the brochures can be picked up any time from the brochure rack outside our office. For more complicated situations, touch base with our Case Workers periodically to review your income and eligibility