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Assistance programs in Tompkins County and Ithaca.

Low income families can get emergency help from charities, churches, and government assistance programs. Apply for financial help for energy bills, rent, security deposits or mortgage payments help as well as affordable housing in Tompkins County.

Basic needs are met in the Ithaca area too. Families can get free food from pantries or healthcare from clinics. There are free back to school supplies, clothes for work, cars, furniture, or Christmas toys. Individuals can also get financial assistance with car loans or employment, credit card help, free daycare and more.

Get housing assistance

Over $2 million dollars in federal government assistance is generally provided to Tompkins County on an annual basis. The funds can be used to expand programs that will help the homeless, prevent evictions, and also provide short term rent relief.

The groups that will be distributing the funds include Tompkins Community Action, Tompkins County Department of Social Services, Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County, and also Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.

A variety of financial assistance will be offered, and services that will be included are rental assistance, homelessness prevention, and also rehousing case management and counseling for families and individuals. Participants in the program will also be linked to support services and job training to help them both regain employment and self-sufficiency.

Tompkins Community Action (phone 273-8816) also offers programs, such a LIHEAP and weatherization, that will help families pay their winter heating bills as well as utility expenses. They are located at 701 Spencer Road in Ithaca.

Financial assistance with utility bills, food, rent, and medical costs

There are some different organizations that people can turn to if they need help with their heating and gas bills. They include the federal government supported Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) as well as the Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.




Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) offers both the HEAP as well as the weatherization program. The organization accepts applications for the HEAP program, which provides assistance for heating emergencies. Payments for clients of the program will vary based on the type of heat used by the household. Natural gas users can receive $400 to $500 per year if there is an elderly person or person with a disability in the home.

However, fuel or heating oil users can get $600 to $700. For natural gas users, the emergency benefit is $350 for a household of four or more, or $300 for fewer than four people in the household. For fuel oil users, the emergency benefit is $600 per home, which doesn't change based on the size of a household. Find how to get free heating oil from Citgo.

The weatherization program is also funded by the federal government, and it performs free energy audits and free building performance services and improvements for income eligible consumers. It will help people reduce their utility and heating bills. It  provides efficient energy use education, and also even applies health and safety measures to ensure the quality of an energy efficient home/apartment.

The non-profit community action agency can provide other support too. This ranges from information on passive income to job placement, referrals to cash aid or government grants, free car programs, low income apartments, home buying loans and more. They try to fight poverty in the region.

Call the Tompkins Community Action agency at 273-8816.

Another place to run to is Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga. They are located at 324 W. Buffalo St., Ithaca. Their number is 272-5062. this This also has limited funds and grants that they can provide to help with heating crisis situations. Call Catholic Charities if you are in dire circumstances with nowhere else to turn to for heating bill help.





A number of other assistance programs are offered by this Finger Lakes based organization. Cash grants may be used for rental expenses. Other aid is focused on providing food, holiday support, and even clothing to the low income. Read more on Finger Lakes Catholic Charities.

The programs and resources below are offered by the Tompkins County Department of Social Services. They are located in the Human Services Building, 320 West Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Cash, Financial and Emergency Assistance - This is offered by appointment only. Call 274-5348. Tompkins County Cash Assistance programs provide grants and other forms of financial help to low income and working poor families and individuals. All aid is offered for emergency situations, including food, health care, child care and housing. Vouchers and benefit levels vary depending on the household situation, including income and number of applicants. Continue with free daycare assistance in New York.
  • Food Assistance is also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - The federal government program provides qualified low-income households monthly vouchers to purchase food and groceries. Call 274-5201
  • Dental Care Assistance - This Tompkins County program assists Medicaid recipients who need affordable yet high quality dental care. Social workers and case managers work with dentist’s offices around the county and clients. In addition to the cleanings and other aid, also get help in identifying and addressing language, transportation, and other barriers to making and keeping appointments with a dentist. Phone 274-5692, or click here for additional dental clinics in New York.
  • Home Energy Assistance Program - Another federal government program, and this in New Yorks version of LIHEAP. It helps low-income households, including seniors and the disabled, meet the high costs of home energy bills, including winter heating expenses. Emergency assistance is provided along with a single cash benefit. Phone 274-5264.

There are two Tompkins County Salvation Army centers that the working poor can turn to for assistance. While referrals and case management is offered, the agency does offer some limited financial assistance, as funding allows, for rent and energy bills.

The Salvation Army will also help meet basic needs, including free food, back to school supplies, winter gear, and Christmas toys and clothing. Additional programs provided include free Christmas meals and gifts as well services such as home delivered meals and school supplies. More on Salvation Army in Ithaca.

Community agency TCAction - Several of the programs they run are noted above, including grants for paying energy bills and weatherization. However the non-profit does offer other help for low income families that are looking to exit poverty. The agency has limited funds for paying rent, including section 8 vouchers, as well as transitional housing programs. Staff from the center will also help clients locate a job in Tompkins County, or gain new skills. Other government benefits include Head Start. Read more TCAction.

Tompkins County emergency food and basic need programs are focused on low income families or those facing a crisis. There are several non-profits that operate food pantries, thrift stores, soup kitchens and/or clothing closets and offer some or all of the following in the Ithaca area.

  • Emergency boxes of groceries.
  • Special seasonal meals and programs, such as free Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas food baskets.
  • Basic needs such as paper goods, household supplies, clothing for work or school, and holiday toys.
  • Other help, such as food stamp applications, may also be available from the pantries. There are dozens of other free food banks. Find more details on free food pantries in Tompkins County.





Get help paying rent in Tompkins County

The federal government has provided grants from the Rapid Rehousing program. The money was provided to a variety of local agencies, including Catholic Charities ((607) 272-5062), the Department of Social Services, Human Services Coalition, and also to the Tompkins Community Action agency (273-8816). Hundreds of families have been helped to date. The federal government money in being provided as part of the annual Emergency Solution Grant program.

To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars was distributed to needy families to help them pay for rental arrears. Cash has also been handed out to help with new housing security deposits for households. There has also been emergency utility bill help paid as well as funds for moving or storage costs.

In addition, a number of lower income households have received received longer term subsidies for ongoing rental assistance. Money has also been set aside from the federal program to continue supporting those families through the end of the year with paying their rent. Contact the above mentioned agencies for more information or to apply.


By Jon McNamara


















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