Free Government Money: Grants & Assistance Programs Explained

The government does not simply offer “free money” for individuals to use at their discretion.[1] However, there are government grants, assistance programs, and tax credits with designated purposes and specific qualifications. These programs are designed to provide funding to those who need it, and we list several such programs below.

Note that if a website or program claims to offer free government money that you can use for any purpose, it’s likely a scam, and you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It’s also worth noting that just because you qualify for a grant or program, it does not always mean you will receive the money (at least not right away) — some grants are competitive, and some programs (such as those for housing assistance) have long waiting lists.[2]

Government Grants and Assistance Programs

The following grants and assistance programs offer funding (and occasionally other types of benefits) to individuals who meet specific qualifications and complete the appropriate application process. We’ve organized them based on who is eligible. You can find more information about many of the programs on our list (as well as various other funding opportunities) at grants.gov. Some programs have online applications, while others require you to contact your local or state agency to apply.

Low-Income Individuals and Families

If you meet the income requirements, such as earning less than a certain percentage of the median income in your area, you may qualify for several different programs that provide funding or other assistance for things like nutrition, child care, housing, education, health care, and more.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

  • Offers: Funding to states and territories that is then disbursed to low-income families for various uses, such as child care or job preparation[3]
  • Eligibility: Applicants must be pregnant or responsible for at least one child under the age of 19, be under-employed or unemployed, and qualify as low income.[3]
  • Find out how to apply in your state

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • Offers: Benefits for nutrition costs; the funds are distributed to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, and you can use them to buy authorized food products at participating retailers.[4]
  • Eligibility: Your household must meet your state’s income requirements for eligibility;[5] there are special requirements for the elderly and people with disabilities.[6]
  • Find your state’s online SNAP application

Our related research lists of more than 80 places that accept EBT/SNAP.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

  • Offers: Federal funding for food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or non-breastfeeding postpartum, as well as children up to the age of five who are at nutritional risk[7]
  • Eligibility: You must fall into one of the groups listed above and meet your state’s low-income requirements.[8]
  • Find your state’s WIC office

Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications

  • Offers: Discounts for landline or cell phone services, as well as broadband Internet service, through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)[9]
  • Eligibility: You must have low income and submit documentation demonstrating your eligibility.[9]
  • Apply directly through the Lifeline portal

For even more options, our related research features cheap cable options for low-income families.

FHA Down Payment Assistance Programs

  • Offers: Grants (funded federally but distributed by states and municipalities) to assist with down payments for FHA loan borrowers;[10] one such program is the American Dream Downpayment Initiative for low-income buyers[11]
  • Eligibility: You must qualify for a mortgage. If you’re a first-time buyer, you must attend a HUD-approved Housing Counseling class.[10]
  • Find a program in your state

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

  • Offers: Assistance to low-income households for bill payment, heating and cooling costs, weatherization, and energy-related home repairs[12]
  • Eligibility: You must have qualifying income and automatically qualify for certain other benefit programs (such as SNAP or Supplemental Security Income).[12]
  • Apply through your territory’s LIHEAP office

Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)

  • Offers: Free weatherization and energy efficiency improvements for low-income households, which lead to utility bill savings[13]
  • Eligibility: Income is the main factor — households at or below 200% of the poverty line are typically eligible.[14]
  • Find out how to apply with your local provider

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Programs

Child Care and Development Fund

  • Offers: Child care for low-income families that need care for children due to work, school, or training conflicts[16]
  • Eligibility: You must be a parent or primary caregiver for a child under the age of 13 (or under 19 in certain situations); you must also be employed, qualify as low income, and need assistance in paying for child care.[16]
  • Find your state’s Child Care Subsidy Agency

National School Lunch Program

  • Offers: Free or reduced lunches for students in low-income families[17]
  • Eligibility: Typically depends on eligibility for other programs like SNAP or a federally funded Head Start program; children can also be eligible based on family size and income[18]
  • Find out more

Federal Pell Grant

  • Offers: Financial assistance for higher education to low-income students;[19] the maximum grant amount changes annually[20]
  • Eligibility: You must be an undergraduate or vocational student enrolled in a participating school, and you must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).[21]
  • Complete the FAFSA to apply

Department of Education Grants (State-Specific)

  • Offers: Financial assistance to students with varying backgrounds, typically for higher education[22]
  • Eligibility: Requirements vary by state and program; grants may be based on income, education history, ethnic or social background, etc.[22]
  • Contact your state’s Department of Education

Medicaid

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Elderly/Disabled

The government offers a few programs specifically designed to assist seniors and those with disabilities. Many of these programs are intended to help offset the costs of home repairs that make homes more safe and comfortable for those with limited mobility or other restrictions.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • Offers: Monthly payments to low-income seniors, as well as adults and children with disabilities[25]
  • Eligibility: Must be 65 or older with qualifying financial circumstances or an adult or child with a disability[25]
  • Apply for SSI or Disability benefits

Very Low Income Housing Repair Program

  • Offers: Home repair grants of up to $7,500 for low-income seniors to remove health and safety hazards[26]
  • Eligibility: You must own and occupy the home, be at least 62 years old, have a family income below 50% of the area median income, and be unable to get affordable rates elsewhere.[26]
  • Check your property’s eligibility

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly

  • Offers: Interest-free advance funding and rent subsidies for the construction or repair of supportive structures for very low-income elderly individuals[27]
  • Eligibility: Applicants must be private nonprofit organizations or nonprofit consumer cooperatives that meet the program’s requirements.[27]
  • Find out more

Local Charities

While these funds aren’t directly from the government, local charitable organizations may offer free home modifications for the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Many of these organizations also receive funding and/or subsidies from the government. You can search for nonprofit organizations by location or purpose using GuideStar.

Veterans

As a benefit of service to their country, the government offers veterans a few different options to receive assistance for things like buying a home or pursuing higher education.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Housing Grants

  • Offers: Housing grants to veterans with service-related disabilities[28]
  • Eligibility: Depending on the type of grant you wish to apply for, you or a family member must own the home, and you must have a qualifying disability.[28]
  • Find out more or apply

GI Bill

  • Offers: Financial assistance for veterans enrolled in college, graduate school, or a training program[29]
  • Eligibility: You must meet certain service requirements and be enrolled in a qualifying school or program.[30]
  • Find out more or apply

Minorities and Women

The government offers a few different types of funding options for the economically and socially disadvantaged — most of these programs are meant to assist business owners.

Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Grants

  • Offers: Competitive business development grants for certain minority groups (past initiatives include Enterprising Women of Color and Inner City Innovation)[31]
  • Eligibility: Varies by grant; you need to register your business with the MBDA, attend a pre-application teleconference, and download the grant package from grants.gov.
  • Find out more

SBA 8(a) Development Program

  • Offers: Financial assistance, training, management, and more for small businesses owned by the economically and socially disadvantaged (including women)[32]
  • Eligibility: The business must be at least 51% owned by a disadvantaged U.S. citizen whose average adjusted gross income for three years is under $350,000, as well as a few more requirements.[32]
  • Get a preliminary qualification assessment

Business Owners

For business owners — specifically those who own small businesses or are self-employed — the government offers a few different ways to apply for funding.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Grants

  • Offers: Grants for aspiring entrepreneurs and those opening small businesses[33]
  • Eligibility: Depends on your business type and the grant for which you are trying to apply[34]
  • Find grants

Economic Development Administration (EDA) Grants

  • Offers: Funding and other types of assistance to support businesses in growing communities[35]
  • Eligibility: Varies by state, community, and business type[36]
  • Find your state’s EDA office

National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) Grants

  • Offers: Up to $4,000 in small business grants for specific business needs[37]
  • Eligibility: Must be a NASE member in good standing for at least three months before applying[37]
  • Find out more or apply

Tax Credits

A tax deduction reduces your taxable income, but a tax credit reduces the total amount of taxes you owe,[38] which can be an even greater advantage — the benefits listed below are all tax credits that you can claim under various circumstances. You typically have to fill out additional forms to claim these credits, which is why many people overlook them when filing their taxes.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

  • Offers: Tax credit for working people with low to moderate income[39]
  • Eligibility: You must meet certain income requirements and file a tax return (even if you are not required to file).[39]
  • Find out how to claim the ETC

Single (Head of Household) With Children / Child Tax Credit

  • Offers: Varying credits for individual and joint filers with children[40]
  • Eligibility: You must be a single parent with at least one child and meet certain income requirements; joint filers with dependents must meet certain income requirements.[40]
  • Find out if you’re eligible

Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)

  • Offers: Tax credit for making eligible contributions to your IRA or the retirement plan offered by your employer; the credit amount will depend on your adjusted gross income[41]
  • Eligibility: You must be at least 18, not a student, and not claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return.[41]
  • Complete Form 880 to claim the credit

ENERGY STAR Products and Energy Efficient Home Modifications

  • Offers: Tax credits for builders of energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings, credits for residential renewable energy products, and credits for ENERGY STAR certified products[42]
  • Eligibility: There are requirements for energy efficiency,[43] specific renewable energy systems,[43] and ENERGY STAR products.[44]
  • Find out more

American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) for Higher Education

  • Offers: Up to $2,500 per eligible student for the first four years of higher education[45]
  • Eligibility: You must be enrolled at least half time and pursuing a degree, and you must not have finished four years of higher education at the beginning of the tax year, as well as a few other requirements.[45]
  • Complete Form 8863 to claim the AOTC 

Unclaimed Funds

Technically, unclaimed funds aren’t “free money” — these funds are already owed to you, but you may not know about them. There are a few different places you can check to find out if you’re missing out on money you could be collecting:

  • Unclaimed pension funds: You can search online to find out if you’re missing out on pension funds, perhaps from a past employer.
  • Unclaimed wages: The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a searchable database of owed wages recovered from labor law violations. The government holds these funds for three years before sending them to the U.S. Treasury.
  • Other unclaimed funds: The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators maintains a searchable database of things like forgotten deposits, overages, or bonds you’ve never collected.
  1. https://www.usa.gov/grants#item-214175[]
  2. https://nlihc.org/news/closed-waiting-lists-and-long-waits-await-those-seeking-affordable-housing-according-new-nlihc[]
  3. https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/613[][]
  4. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/facts[]
  5. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility[]
  6. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligibility/elderly-disabled-special-rules[]
  7. https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic[]
  8. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/wic/wic-fact-sheet.pdf[]
  9. https://www.fcc.gov/lifeline-consumers[][]
  10. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/administration/grants/grantssrc[][]
  11. https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/20604_BROCHURE.PDF[]
  12. https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/623[][]
  13. https://www.energy.gov/eere/wap/weatherization-assistance-program[]
  14. https://www.energy.gov/eere/wap/how-apply-weatherization-assistance[]
  15. https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance[][]
  16. https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/615[][]
  17. https://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp[]
  18. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/NSLPFactSheet.pdf[]
  19. https://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/index.html[]
  20. https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/grants/pell[]
  21. https://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/eligibility.html[]
  22. https://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html[][]
  23. https://www.usa.gov/medicaid#item-35462[][][]
  24. https://www.insurekidsnow.gov/find-coverage-your-family/frequently-asked-questions/index.html#childEligible[]
  25. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/ssi/[][]
  26. https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/single-family-housing-repair-loans-grants[][]
  27. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/mfh/progdesc/eld202[][]
  28. https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/disability-housing-grants/[][]
  29. https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/[]
  30. https://www.va.gov/gi-bill-comparison-tool[]
  31. https://www.mbda.gov/grants[]
  32. https://www.sba.gov/federal-contracting/contracting-assistance-programs/8a-business-development-program[][]
  33. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/grants[]
  34. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/grants/grants-programs-eligibility[]
  35. https://www.eda.gov/funding-opportunities/[]
  36. https://www.eda.gov/resources/[]
  37. https://www.nase.org/become-a-member/grants-and-scholarships/growth-grants[][]
  38. https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions-for-individuals[]
  39. https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/earned-income-tax-credit[][]
  40. https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-publication-972[][]
  41. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-savings-contributions-savers-credit[][]
  42. https://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits[]
  43. https://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits/federal_tax_credit_archives/tax_credits_home_builders[][]
  44. https://www.energystar.gov/products[]
  45. https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/individuals/aotc[][]