Bouncing Back When Your Income Drops: Using Community Resources

Losing a job or income can be frightening for individuals and their families. Fortunately, many services can help families during this stressful time.
Bouncing Back When Your Income Drops: Using Community Resources - Articles


The seventh in a series of publications about rebounding from unemployment, this publication reviews the major resources available throughout Pennsylvania, including job training and information, unemployment compensation, assistance services, and personal and financial counseling services.

Some government programs have specific eligibility requirements, and it is impossible to determine if your family can qualify for the kinds of assistance offered unless you go in person and talk with the agency representatives. Before going, call to find out what information and documentation is required to apply for that agency's programs. Taking the required information with you will help the agency quickly determine if you are eligible for benefits.

Job and Training Information

Local Team Pennsylvania CareerLink centers help anyone seeking employment and training services. CareerLink offers many resources to help job seekers find new employment and training assistance. At these centers, individuals can use an Internet-based system to locate and apply for jobs that are available at the local, state, and national levels. The centers also provide skills assessment and aptitude testing, assistance with résumé building and interviewing skills, information about careers and occupations, and training that addresses an individual's specific needs. CareerLink centers also have services available for employers that focus on matching employers with potential employees and technical assistance. Once you have registered with CareerLink and your application is on file, employers using the system can consider you for job openings. There is no charge for the services offered at CareerLink centers. Check your phone book for the location and phone number of your local center.

Many other services are available at local CareerLink centers. You can apply for unemployment compensation and other services, such as benefits available to persons with disabilities, to veterans for employment and training, and through Social Security and the Department of Public Assistance. CareerLink should be able to help you find employment and services to support your family during the time you are not working.

Unemployment Compensation

The unemployment insurance system was created to ensure that at least a significant proportion of the necessities of life (food, shelter, and clothing) could be provided while a search for work takes place. Unemployment compensation benefits are available to workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. Benefits are paid as a matter of right and are not based on need.

To meet the basic requirements to be eligible for unemployment compensation, the concept of fault is crucial. Workers who have lost employment due to no fault of their own are eligible to receive benefits. This means that if you are laid off or your employer closes the business and gives notice to employees that they are no longer needed, you will be eligible for compensation. However, you probably will not be eligible if you are dismissed from work for behavior-related problems or misconduct. When you voluntarily quit, you must prove that you have done so for "good cause" to be eligible for benefits. "Good cause" is a legal term that refers to a serious and compelling problem that you have tried to work out with your employer but have been unable to resolve.

Unemployment insurance payments are based on your earnings during a base period consisting of the first four of the previous five calendar quarters. Pennsylvania also pays an additional dependent allowance for a legally married spouse who is living with and has been wholly or partially supported by the unemployed worker.

To receive unemployment compensation benefits, you must complete an application. Contact your local CareerLink center for assistance. Your former employer will be contacted and given a 10-day period to reply. Once a determination has been made concerning your eligibility, it will take a few weeks before you will receive your first check.

Temporary Assistance Services

In Pennsylvania, several programs available at county public assistance offices can help eligible families when their income has significantly dropped. Finding out if your family is eligible for the services will require you to visit the local office and apply. Be prepared to provide proof of all sources of income with pay stubs or your past employer's phone number, as well as benefit letters from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs, unemployment compensation, and/or pension agencies. You also may be asked to provide checking and savings account statements and your bills for rent or mortgage, utilities, house insurance, child care, or care for a dependent adult. Coming prepared to provide this information will speed the application process. Most CareerLink centers have a county assistance office available in their facilities.

Income Assistance Programs

Income assistance is available to families that meet specific eligibility guidelines. Different programs provide financial aid and services to qualifying families. Some of these programs have time limits for benefits and require that the household head be actively seeking employment. The amount of financial support a family will receive is based on the family's size.

Food Assistance Programs

The Food Stamp Program will furnish a family with a debit card for the electronic transfer of benefits when purchasing food at a grocery store. It is like having money to purchase most kinds of food at authorized stores. The card cannot be used to purchase nonfood items, cigarettes, pet foods, or foods prepared within the store. To apply for food stamps, take your income information to a county public assistance office. Eligible families receive a food stamp allotment based on a combination of factors, including family size and monthly income after certain deductions. Allotments decrease as the family's income and assets increase. All households that do not include an elderly or disabled member must pass both a "gross income test" and a "net income test." This means that the family's total gross and net income may not exceed the limits set for the size of the household.

Medical Assistance Programs

Pennsylvania has a broad range of medical assistance programs available to eligible individuals who can't afford health care. These programs are all administered through county assistance offices. To apply for medical assistance, take your income information to a county public assistance office.

Medically Needy Only (MNO) provides medical coverage to eligible persons who have sufficient income to meet daily living expenses but not major medical costs. The program uses monthly net income maximums by family size to determine eligibility. Eligible families receive an ACCESS card used by medical providers and may choose from a number of managed care plans instead of the Department of Public Welfare's fee-for-service program.

Healthy Beginnings provides Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and children under eight years old. To be eligible, a person must be a Pennsylvania resident and meet financial eligibility requirements. There are no restrictions on resources owned by the family. A person may own a car and a house and/ or have savings. There is no lien placed on a home. When enrolled in this program, payment for virtually all health-care needs are covered with no co-payment required. Eligibility for children is redetermined on a 12-month basis. Pregnant women receive complete coverage until 60 days after delivery or termination of pregnancy, regardless of change in income.

Healthy Horizons is a program designed for persons over 65 or who are disabled. Various benefits are provided based on the family's eligibility. These options range from coverage for the most needy, which pays all health-care expenses, to a cost-sharing program. Income limits are used to determine program eligibility.

Heating Assistance Programs

The Pennsylvania Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps limited income families pay their heating bills through energy assistance grants. Persons need not have an unpaid bill to receive energy assistance. If you are eligible for LIHEAP, a payment will be sent directly to the utility or fuel dealer, and the payment will be credited on your bill. In some cases, a check may be mailed directly to the recipient. Additional money is available to individuals if they have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing heat. Assistance with energy emergency situations is available 24 hours a day. LIHEAP is available to any resource-stressed individual or family. No lien is placed on the person's property if they receive this help. A family of four with an annual income of up to $44,443 can qualify for assistance. To apply for LIHEAP, take your income information to your county's assistance office.

Legal Assistance Services

People with limited income can sometimes get legal help from local Legal Services offices. Legal Services generally handles civil cases, not personal bankruptcy. The service may be able to help respond to foreclosure proceedings and filing for personal exceptions. Check your local phone book for a phone number to call to describe your specific problem and ask for help or a reference to someone else who can help.

Personal Counseling Services

Professional counseling is available in many communities from local private counseling agencies, mental health agencies, ministers, and support groups. These counseling services are available to help with getting stress or depression under control. If you are uncertain about whom to call, contact the information and referral service listed in your local phone book.

Financial Counseling Services

Financial and credit counseling services are available in some communities. If your family is facing past-due bills, threats of repossession, utility cut-off, or mortgage foreclosure, ask your local information and referral service to identify a local financial counseling service. Before participating in the program, find out who sponsors it, what the charges are, and how the program operates. Do not confuse a financial counseling service with a debt consolidation loan program from a financial institution. Beware of people who claim they can repair your credit record or save you from financial problems. Penn State Extension can help with simple money management problems. Contact the family and consumer science educator at the Penn State Extension office in your county for information and help.

Information and Referral

Most communities have an information and referral service and a directory of available county services. If a phone number is not available in your local phone book's community service section, contact the public library or the area aging agency. The area aging agency maintains an information and referral service of resources available for help with elderly issues and can refer you to the county's information and referral agency.


Information was provided by Team Pennsylvania's Human Resource Investment Council, Pennsylvania Department of Labor, and Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare.

Schuyler, N. The Unemployment Survival Handbook. New York: Allworth Press, 1993.

Prepared by Natalie M. Ferry, former coordinator of special program initiatives for Penn State Extension.