It is not easy to balance a household budget when you have a low income. But you can supplement your income by claiming all of the benefits and supports you have the right to claim. Here is a checklist. It includes most of the major programs that help Maine people supplement their incomes. Don't leave money on the table!
If you have earned income and you are raising children, you can file for this significant tax credit. For tax year 2018, this credit is worth up to $6,431! (This amount goes up every year.) Wage earners who have no children in the home may be eligible for a smaller credit.
This is a "refundable credit." This means that even if you owe a small amount of taxes, you get the full amount of your credit. The IRS will pay you the difference. Money in your pocket!
File for free!
You don't have to pay to file a tax return. Many free options are available. If you do pay a tax preparer, beware of hidden fees and other predatory schemes. With electronic filing, you can get your refund quickly. No need to pay extra fees. More on free filing
Other child-related tax credits you may be eligible for:
Learn more about the Earned Income Credit.
This program replaced the old “Circuit Breaker” (or Property Tax and Rent Relief) program. The new program still helps homeowners and renters whose property tax payments or rent payments are high in relation to their income. However, fewer people will be eligible and for smaller amounts.
You no longer file a separate application. Most people who qualify will get their payment as part of their state income tax refund. Use Maine Income Tax Form 1040ME and the Schedule PTFC form to apply. There is a simplified process for most people with low incomes who do not normally file tax returns. Follow the instructions on the forms. If you need help completing the forms you can call Maine Revenue Services at 207-626-8475.
For tax year 2016, the maximum credit was $600 ($900 for people 65 years of age or older).
To qualify, your household income must be $53,333 or less (depending on your filing status and number of exemptions). Your property tax on your home in Maine must be more than 6% of your adjusted gross income. If you pay rent, your rent was more than 40% of your adjusted gross income.
You can learn more about this tax credit, and get the form to claim it on the Maine Revenue website.
This credit is also sometimes called the Opportunity Maine tax credit.
If you received a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree from a Maine school, and graduated in 2008 or later, you may qualify for a tax credit. You may get this tax credit if:
You can still qualify even if:
If your employer pays for all your student loans, you cannot get this tax credit. But, if your employer pays only part of your student loans, you may get part of the tax credit.
The first time you apply for this credit, you must submit:
You may also need to prove that you paid student loans. The Maine Revenue Services may contact you if they need extra information. Submit this information with your income tax return.
Learn more at the Opportunity Maine website.
This is a small property tax exemption for all Maine homeowners. If you are eligible your town can reduce the taxable value of your home, which reduces your annual property taxes. Apply at your town office . Once you have applied, you will be eligible for following years, unless you move. Then you would need to re-apply.
If you have a low income and limited resources and cannot afford to pay the taxes on your home, you can apply to the town for a “poverty tax abatement.” You can apply for up to 3 years of back taxes owed. You will need to show that you used all of your income for basic necessities. You can get an application at your local town office.
Learn more about this in our article: I can't pay the taxes on my house. What can I do?
You may also qualify for the Maine Property Tax Credit.
More people can get this free or low-cost health coverage than you may realize.
Even if you earn too much money to get help from other low-income programs, you may be eligible for MaineCare. For example, you can earn up to 214% of the federal poverty level ($52,644 for a family of 4 in 2017) and still get MaineCare for your children. And there is no asset test for children. Other special MaineCare programs, like coverage for HIV, breast cancer and cervical cancer, have even higher income cut-offs.
As a Medicare recipient, are you getting all of the benefits you could be getting? For example, MaineCare will pay the premium for your Medicare Part B supplemental plan if you are financially eligible. Also, you can get drugs cheaper under the Part D Plan. There are other supplements you may be missing out on.
To find out more, call Legal Services for the Elderly: 1-800-750-5353 or DHHS Statewide #: 1-877-543-7669.
Get more information about the Medicare Savings Program.
Beginning November 1, 2017 (through December 15, 2017)) you can apply for affordable health insurance through healthcare.gov. There will be a similar "open enrollment period" each year. But there are exceptions for people in certain circumstances; they can enroll any time of year. Read more here.
If your household income is below 400% of the poverty line, the government will help you pay your premiums. If your income is below 250% of poverty, you can also get help with your out of pocket health care expenses.
Learn more about the Affordable Care Act in our article: Understanding the Affordable Care Act
Your household may be eligible even if you think your income is too high. You can calculate your eligibility by using our "food supplement estimator."
Very low-income families with children can apply for this benefit. As a result of recent changes in the law, which will go into effect on November 1st, 2017, two-parent families are now eligible for this benefit.
Most adults who receive TANF must participate in ASPIRE - a work/job-training program. An eligible parent who wants to attend college or other post-secondary school can get the same benefits, plus support services, through the Parents as Scholars (PaS) Program.
"Alternative Aid" is a benefit for people who choose not to apply for TANF on an on-going basis but need short-term support in order to become, or to stay, employed. This benefit - worth up to 3 months of TANF support - is available once in a 12-month period.
Families leaving TANF due to increased earnings can get "transitional benefits." These can provide temporary transportation, child care and MaineCare benefits and can help bridge the gap when losing TANF.
Apply for all of these programs at your local DHHS office.
Get a TANF application form, fill it out and submit it to DHHS. (This is a large .pdf file which may load slowly.) Or use DHHS's "My Maine Connection" online application tool.
One time per year, households with children can get help with an emergency problem, such as threatened eviction or an electric shut-off.
Apply at your local DHHS office.
Learn more about this in our article: Emergency Assistance
This is a program of last resort for very low income households whose basic needs are not met by other benefit programs. It is run by towns and cities. Every town and city in Maine has a General Assistance program. GA can help with basic necessities such as rent, food, clothing, fuel, and electric bills.
Apply at your town office. For those living in unorganized townships, apply to DHHS at 1-800-442-6003 (TTY: 287-6948). You can also call this state number to ask that they review the town’s action on your application or refusal to take your application.
Get more information about this in our article: General Assistance in Maine
Low-income homeowners and renters can qualify each heating season for help with their fuel bills. You may qualify for assistance even if you are renting and your heat is included as part of your rent.
You may also qualify for other home energy related benefits.
Get more information, including list of county CAP (Community Action Program) offices where you can apply.
MEJP posts information about other programs that help with winter utility and fuel bills.
Many local and regional programs also have listings through 211 Maine.
If you are disabled and expect to be disabled for a year or more, you may apply for disability benefits. Social Security Disability (SSD) is for people with a recent earnings record. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for disabled and elderly people who do not have past earnings, or to supplement Disability benefits for people with a smaller earnings record.
Apply at your nearest Social Security Administration office.
If you were hurt on the job, or your job caused an illness, you should be able to get Workers’ Compensation to pay your medical bills and to pay you a partial paycheck for weeks you cannot work.
Notify your employer right away if you are hurt. Be sure that your employer files a "First Report of Injury" and then follow up with the Workers' Compensation Board.
This is a benefit for laid-off workers. Depending on the facts of your case, you may qualify even if you quit or were fired. Part-time workers in Maine can now claim these benefits, too.
File a claim online or by calling the Unemployment Call Center: 800-593-7660 TTY: Maine relay 711.
Learn more in our article: Unemployed Worker Benefits
Are you getting all of the support you could be receiving? If not, you can sign up with Maine DHHS, Support Enforcement and Recovery, to help you collect the support that you should be getting. This state agency helps you to:
Maine has a number of state and federally funded rental housing programs. Many have waiting lists, but some do not. Some of the newer programs help people who have substance abuse or mental health issues. To find out more about the low-cost rental housing in your area, contact:
Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA)
1-800-452-4668 (TTY: Maine Relay 711)
For help with buying a home (low-rate mortgages for low-income buyers) contact:
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) operate many programs providing financial help to servicememembers and veterans. “Veterans” includes all who have served in the armed forces, men and women alike. We post more detailed information about these programs on StatesideLegal.org.
Preble Street Resource Center Veterans Housing Services- Assists low-income veterans and their families to find and maintain stable housing. Preble Street has three offices: Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor, but serves veterans statewide. More details here. Contact information here.
Veterans, Inc. - Serving the New England States - Helps to prevent homelessness and ensure housing stability throughout New England, among low-income veteran families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing. More information here.
Goodwill Veteran’s Fund- Provides one time financial support for veterans or the families of fallen veterans to help with unforeseen expenses or with expenses to help improve quality of life (such as education or to help start a small business). More information here.
To get answers to your questions, or to get help if you are denied, contact one of these agencies: