Government and public aid in Polk County Iowa.

The Department of Human Services in Polk County administers public aid to the working poor and low income. There is also assistance for elderly and senior citizens in the county, including the city of Des Moines. Resources and benefits include TANF cash assistance as well as food stamps and more. Social workers from the county can provide support to the less fortunate.

There are a few different programs that offer food assistance to the needy and disadvantage, and the options range from SNAP food stamps, WIC, and the commodity supplemental food program (CSFP). Each will focus on a different need and type of situation, and more information on the different solutions are below.

  • SNAP food stamps is the nation's, as well as Polk County's, largest public aid program. Clients will be provided with an EBT card that can be used to help pay for their groceries at the local supermarket or grocery store.
  • Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) will help women as well as children from the community.
  • Seniors as well children are the main beneficiaries of CSFP. This relies on surplus government commodities to feed the vulnerable, which would include the elderly and young children in the greater Des Moines Iowa region.
  • Free lunches are available across Polk County. Many schools participate, and students from low income families will be provide a breakfast or lunche. They can also be referred to summer and holiday programs too.
  • Vouchers or funds can be used to pay for a portion of bills incurred from child care providers, if the parent is enrolled into the benefit.

All of these public resources are intended to prevent hunger in the region, and the Department of Human Services relies on both government and private donations to keep them operating. What may be passed out can range from perishable items to milk, formula, meats, and infant formula. Residents also have other options available to them, such as DHS will often have information on local pantries, or there are discount food resources available from the Iowa Self-Help and Resource Exchange and more.

Cash assistance, which is a form of grant, is administered by the Department. This tends to be for very low income residents, and rely those either living in poverty or that are on the verge of it. The funds can be used for only certain bills as well, such as those needed to pay for shelter (such as rent or utility costs), medical care, or job related expenses.




This public aid is known as FIP, and the funds are provided with one goal. That is to help residents to become self-sufficiency over time and increase their income and stability. So assistance is only provided for a short period of time, and the client will also need to participate in job training and other services, and one example of this is PROMISE JOBS.

As part of the FIP requirements, the individual will also partner with a social worker from the Polk County Department of Human Services (DHS). They will ensure the client is making progress towards goals that are set. Also, please note that this particular benefit is also known as TANF in many states.

Health care needs are met by Medicaid. Both state and federal government funds are used to help low income families access the medical and even dental care they need. So the county will partner with them on placing people into Des Moines based clinics or HMO networks. While the patient will still need to pay a portion of their medical expenses, the fact is that this public benefit of Medicaid will help ensure all people have some type of access to the health care they need.

Children in Polk County can be enrolled into Medicaid, or other public health care programs available to them include Hawk-i health care. One of the key benefits is that this service can not only cover very low income households, but it is even for more moderate income families too. Or it can just be used for dental care, if that is all the family needs. So the amount of aid provided is wide ranging, flexible and extensive.

The main DHS offices in Polk County that provide application to public assistance include River Place office (2309 Euclid Ave, Des Moines, IA, dial 515-725-2600) as well as the Carpenter office (1900 Carpenter, Des Moines, Iowa, phone 515-286-3555).




By Jon McNamara

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