Apps That Help Low-Income Families.

In the midst of all of the technology tools, there are a number of free apps designed to meet the unfulfilled needs of low-income Americans. Driven mostly by government organizations and non-profit agencies, these iPhone and Android smartphone applications help to fill service gaps and provide those in need with more resources and opportunities. Most of them are free to use and download, making them very accessible.

The key to creating a successful app for low-income families is to have an actual understanding of what these families need. That's why the best of them tend to be either developed or supported by organizations such as the USDA and social services agencies.

The following eight apps for iOS and Android smart phones are among the most legitimately useful for people trying to make ends meet, and cover a wide variety of services from enhancing EBT spending to making medical care more affordable.

Fresh EBT

Fresh EBT not only makes it easy to manage your EBT balance, it provides integrated links to useful benefits like coupons and recipes. There are also shopping tools on this free app (for both Android or iPhones), including tips on grocery shopping unit pricing.

The central feature of the app is its integration with the online EBT portal of every state. In many places, checking a current EBT balance means you have to either call a hotline or purchase something to get it printed on a receipt. Once it's set up, the Fresh EBT applications shows you your current food stamp and cash benefit budgets and will update automatically after every purchase.

 

 

 

 

It does much more than that, though. The "Save" tab lists major grocery chains and allows you to link your grocery rewards card to the app. It will then display current coupons for each store and allow you to click on them to automatically send them to your rewards card for instant use at checkout. It also displays special offers (provided by non-profit partner organizations) and links to assistance programs that may be helpful. This includes food pantries, coupon websites or applications, and many others.

There is also a "job search" feature that lets you scan listings within a set distance of your city, a list of food pantries near your current location and a database of over 100,000 recipes that focus on healthy and affordable ingredients. The developers also periodically add new features in response to client need: for example, during federal government shutdowns the app added the ability to hide a set percentage of each balance from view to prevent accidental overspending.

Fresh EBT is free to Android and iOS users; parent company Propel makes money from the partners and coupons featured on the app. The one dicey bit of the whole thing is that it is necessary to provide your Social Security number to the app to link it to your state's EBT portal. There isn't any real reason to distrust Propel, but data breaches are a thing and there is some risk to be aware of each time you give it out.

 

 

 

 

WICShopper

Created by a partner of the USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), WICShopper is an app that ties in with the local agency that administers the federal government benefit program. The basic purpose of it is to let you scan barcodes at the grocery store to instantly see if the item is WIC-eligible, but it also lets you check your current benefits balance and includes hundreds of low-cost healthy recipes.

WICShopper is freely available to anyone through the Google and Apple app stores, but it's important to note that not all of the WIC agencies currently support it. After you download the smartphone applications, you'll be presented with a list of eligible agencies. If your local agency is not listed, app creator JPMA asks you to email them at WICshopper@JPMA.com to find out if and when it will be supported. Or find more details on enrolling in WIC for discounts.

Range

The Range app is designed specifically for minors, particularly at-risk youth. It puts a list of hot meals, safe places (such as libraries) and medical services including free community clinics at their fingertips. The app has a particular focus on listing summer meal program locations for kids who are out of school. Safe spaces and medical services are listed year-round. There are everything from clinics to places for free, emergency health or dental care listed on the Range smartphone applications.

The app is sponsored by the USDA and is available for Android and iOS in their repstive stores. It is also free to download and use.

SaverLife (Earn.org)

Earn.org's SaverLife offers a pretty powerful incentive to sock some money away in a savings account every month. For the first six months of using the app, if you save at least $20 you'll get $10 in return!

The app also offers some free financial coaching content, enough to keep you busy for that six-month savings period. This helps low income and other families understand money. Or use apps that teach financial literacy to kids.

You'll need to link a savings account to the app for tracking and for the eventual $60 deposit from SaverLife, but it won't have the ability to draw money from your account so it is relatively safe. The app will simply check your account balance every 30 days to make sure it is at least $20 higher than it was previously. The $60 bonus is paid all at once at the end of the six-month savings period; you'll just need to take a quick exit survey to get it.

 

 

 

 

Full Cart (Fed 40)

Previously known as Fed 40, Full Cart is a monthly food kit delivery service designed specifically for low-income families. It tends to provide more affordable yet healthy food. The food is free for lower income families – they just need to pay for shipping costs.

Aren't food kits known for being expensive? Usually they are, but Full Cart does things the opposite way. It provides a set of basic, nutritious meals that are ready to cook using healthy dry ingredients like lentils, rice, oats, macaroni and dehydrated vegetables. Best of all, these meals are delivered to your door for less than what it would usually cost to buy all the ingredients at the store - you can expect about $40-50 worth of food just for the cost of shipping, which is usually around $10. The meals are designed as a complete vegetarian base, but one to which you can easily add an affordable protein such as hamburger or chicken.

When it was Fed 40, it was free but you had to apply to a program detailing your financial circumstances and there were limited acceptance slots. Full Cart is now available to everyone, but you'll be asked to pay a shipping fee of about $7 to $13 for each box depending on your location.

SWHELPER (Social Work Helper)

The Social Work Helper app rolls together a number of the functions of the other apps mentioned here. It's sort of an all-purpose help finder for those in need. It can assist with locating local free food banks, different types of shelters, mental health resources, crisis help lines and support groups among other services.

The app also assists in finding sources of low-cost prescriptions, and can even help you quickly register to vote! A number of assistance programs are listed on the free SWHELPER application, which is on both Android and iPhone operating systems.

FoodKeeper

The FoodKeeper app comes from the Foodsafety.gov website, which is the public-facing source of safety information for the USDA. As the name suggests, it's meant to be a quick reference on the safe storage temperatures and conditions for different types of foods.

The app gives you a list of food categories similar to the one you get at the grocery self-checkout, and you can navigate the menu from there to find out what the safe storage conditions, time to use and minimum cooking temperatures are. There are even some basic cooking tips included to make sure you heat foods fully and evenly. In addition to this giant library of food safety information, the app includes product recall updates and a series of food handling and cooking safety videos.

Amwell

Virtual medical consultations are very useful for certain specific applications. They're especially helpful to patients with mobility issues (including senior citizens or the disabled) who have a lot of small follow-ups for treatment of a chronic condition, and they tend to cost only a fraction of what an in-person appointment would.

If you're in a position where telemedicine makes sense, Amwell is an app to check out. The most popular use of the app is most likely for easy and inexpensive prescription refills, but it has many more uses. You can speak to therapists and psychiatrists, have a number of relatively minor urgent care issues looked at, speak to a nutritionist, and more. Another big advantage is that the urgent care services are available 24 hours a day. Even find other apps for low cost health care.

 

 

 

 

At about $69 to $99 per session, the out-of-pocket cash costs for these services are relatively low. They're covered by quite a few insurance plans, however, including Aetna and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of about a dozen states.

There are a number of iOS and Android smartphone applications that are focused on meeting the needs of low income families, the working poor, and those in need. Each one is free to users and is focused on addressing a certain need of the community.

 

By Jon McNamara

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