I got some emails from friends that asked me how is it like to live in US… So this post is meant to give a brief condition of how a student family can live and survive to live in US – with a tight financial condition 🙂
I have a lot of friends that coming, living, working and studying in US… But so little I know that have a condition like us; A young married couple with child, coming from middle class family, only one income (usually both are working OR if only 1 income, they’re very wealthy), in the struggling to make a live from our own. We have so many friends in (more or less) same condition like us but live in Europe, so probably they face different challenges of what we have to deal with in here.
“Ara, are you sure that you can cover all your family needs in here? Because student salary is very tight, I myself as a single person has a very tight monthly budget to covers the rent, car insurance, fuel, electricity, Internet and TV bills, phone, groceries, etc..etc…, I think Ceniza should find a job or looking for a Master degree here so that you both can have two incomes” – A friend, 2010 – just by the time Ara came to US-+
Clearly our friend is being very concerned about our condition here- A PhD student with 2 dependents; 1 single STUDENT salary (though me and Ara never worried about our financial things, we can always fit in the budget – even how small it is). But, hey! We’re in USA, remember? There are PLENTY of opportunities for a low-income family (not poor, ok?) to get benefits from federal or state government. The thing is: You have to find it yourself. Because every states have a different policy and benefits available for their resident; but I just want to let you know, that it is THERE. Available for you and your family. The best way to find it is of course through browsing to gov sites or as simply as using public transportation, going to public service places; community heath center, city hall, library, etc where most of the information brochures about the benefits are available in there.
Most of the benefits are mainly aimed to the low income family which projected based on your household size and financial condition (income and assets). This eligibility comes along with other general requirements – based on your citizenship status, health or physical condition (disabled, pregnant, HIV, etc), ages (children, senior > 65 years old, etc), and many other general requirements (different for each benefits).
Those who is fall into category of “low income family” is calculated based on the total persons in your family (household size) and the annual income. This number will be projected to Federal Poverty Guidelines (which being renewed every year) and will be using different percentage for every benefits. Let’s say, to be eligible on basis of income to received WIC (Woman, Infant and Children) benefits, applicants’ gross income (i.e. before taxes are withheld) must fall at or below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines (FPG). While other benefits like if to get MassHealth insurance for children between 1-18 years old the gross income must fall or below 150% of FPG. If you are confused, read furthermore about that.You will get the idea.
As I said, different state different policies and benefits available. For you who lives in Massachusetts area, particularly in City of New Bedford and around, you can find this lists helpful. It’s never too late to apply!
- Food – Woman, Infant, and Children (WIC). The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – better known as the WIC Program – serves to safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diet. This is the first benefit that I got when we moved here. Every month each me (first as a breastfeeding woman and second as a pregnant woman) & Azka (after 6 months old) received about $60 vouchers of the healthy foods listed on this program: Baby foods ( jar foods, I didn’t use the vouchers for this though), milk, cereals, cheese, can fish, peanut butter, beans, tofu, whole wheat bread or tortilla, fruits and vegetables money check. And during summer time they gave $25 voucher to shop for fruits and veggies at the Farmer’s Market in the area. Besides WIC, there is also SNAP food benefits or known better as Food Stamp. This one is different with WIC, but only US citizen can received it.
- Health Insurance – MassHealth. It’s a mandatory for every resident in Massachusetts to have a health insurance. But it’s not cheap! Ara spent $2000/ year for his health insurance which he never used at all – but it’s covered by his grant, so it’s okay. As for me and Azka, we definitely can’t afford to get one with our own money. Thank God there’s MassHealth! For Azka, our financial requirement met the income guidelines, so he’s all set and received the Children’s Medical Security Plan (which is funded by Masshealth) and only need to pay copay about $2 or $3 per visit to the doctor or buy medicine, the rest is covered by the insurance (without insurance, pay per visit will cot around $40-70 plus additional immunizations shots and lab tests). As for myself, I am not eligible to received MassHealth because our income is TOO HIGH (which doesn’t make any SENSE!) and my immigration status (non-immigrant) is not fit the eligibility check, so I only received free health care from Health Safety Net. It is not an insurance, but as far as I experienced, I got free check-up to the doctor and same with Azka, only pay the copay for $2-$3 for doctor and medicine. So I’m happy with it 😀 But now since I’m pregnant, I got the MassHealth Prenatal in a program called Healthy Start which will covered all my check-up routine, USG, labor, medicine, home visit, lab, family planning, newborn care, etc until 60 days postpartum. Alhamdulillah.
- Heating – Fuel Assistance. During winter time (starting November 1st until April 30th) the heating bills can be doubled or tripled than usual. For example, during summer the gas bill only $15-$20 per month (only for the stove/ cooking purpose), and by winter at the max it can reach as high as $120/ month! With the fuel assistance, the state government will pay portions (or all) of the heating bill. Last year we got $580 for 6 month period of winter (spring in here is considered winter I guess, since it’s very cold) which being transfered directly to our NSTAR account. By the end of the April, the money still left around $100 and we can use it for the rest of the next six months 😉 Without the assistance, many low income families have to cut their groceries budget for the gas bill. Please contact PACE for further information in New Bedford area.
To be continued to Part II……