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Making it Financially

How can you get by on the AmeriCorps stipend? Whether you’ve accepted a position or are considering applying, this is a big question for most CTEP members. This list of state assistance, discount programs, and tips for living cheaply will help you understand how to get through the year.

Food

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) gives you around $190 per month to spend on groceries. After your application is approved, you get an EBT card (aka food stamps) that works like a debit card at most grocery stores including Target, Cub, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and co-ops.

Signing Up

The quickest way to get your EBT card is to take your AmeriCorps proof of income (given by Joel during pre-service orientation) directly to your county’s office where you may be able to get the card the same day.  When you apply, bring ANY document that’s even slightly related to your income, expenses, and residency (just in case) and a book. Read for details about applying in Ramsey and Hennepin counties, and find your local office on this map.

Tips

  • Don’t apply online!! If you even start the process online, it can take months to receive your card.

  • Your card works for groceries and cold deli food or salad bars. It does NOT work for hot deli food (e.g. rotisserie chickens or hot food bars), alcohol, and non-food items like vitamins, medicine, soap, household items, etc.

  • If you’re using self-checkout to buy both food and non-food items, separate your purchases to pay for the food separately, otherwise a cashier will have to come help.

  • Farmer’s Markets accept food stamps! Find an EBT booth at the market and tell them how much money you want to withdraw from your card. You’ll receive coins to give to vendors for fruits, vegetables, baked goods, honey, meat, AND plants and herbs that are edible or will grow food. St. Paul Farmer’s Markets will match your food stamps withdrawal up to $10! The downtown farmer’s market is great, and most parking in the area is free on Sundays.

Food Pantries

If your EBT card isn’t covering your food needs, you can get free or reduced-cost food at local pantries. Look through the Handbook of the Streets for Hennepin and Ramsey counties to find pantries available in your area. Note: Many pantries are available only to residents of the neighborhood and require proof of residence.

  • Ruby's Pantry has pop-up food shelves that you can go to no matter where you live. They charge $20 to get two boxes of food and paper products. Their registration can be done in person and requires no documents, and there is no income limit to get food. Check their Facebook page for upcoming pantries and what food they’ll have.

Transit

The Transit Assistance Program (TAP) helps you afford taking the bus or Metro by reducing your fare to $1.00 per ride. It’s loaded onto a Go-To Card, a pass that you can use on local buses and Metro lines.

Signing Up

Go to a Metro Transit service center or apply online. All you need is a photo ID and your EBT card. You will receive your Go-To Card (same day if you go in person, within a week if you apply online) that you can add money to at Metro stations or online. Transfers are valid for 2 ½ hours and automatically apply to your card, so any rides you take within that time will be free.

Note: The discounted price is not valid on Metro Mobility or Transit Link buses and only a partial discount is applied on Northstar fares.

Energy Assistance

Minnesota has an Energy Assistance Program that helps low-income households pay their electric and heating bills. The benefit could range from $100 to $1400 for the winter season depending on your need. Grants are available for renters or homeowners and based on household size, income, fuel type, and energy usage. Note: You need to have lived at your address for at least two months before you can apply.

Find information for applying in Ramsey/Washington county or in Hennepin county.

Phone

The Lifeline program offers free phone service, including minutes, data, and unlimited texting. The program is available through different companies that participate in the program. If you run out of minutes or data, you can pay to add additional minutes or data to your plan. Otherwise, your service will refill on the same day every month. The service is supplied from a standard phone network, such as Sprint.

Signing Up

Find a local company here and choose the plan that works best for you. Plans vary, but most include 300-500 minutes, 500MB-2GB of data, and unlimited texting, refilled once a month. You also receive a free Android phone (typically an older model) or a SIM card to put in your current phone. Once you’ve decided on a company, complete their online application process and upload proof of income. The phone/SIM card will be mailed to you soon. 

Note: Only one service is eligible per address, so you and a roommate could not both sign up.

Tips

  • If you want to keep your current phone number, call your new company on a different phone and ask them to put your number on the SIM card. You have to do this BEFORE you put the SIM card in the phone.

  • If you have an iPhone and the company doesn’t offer the right sized SIM card, you can use a SIM card cutter to make it the right size (seems sketchy but it works).

  • Life Wireless and SafeLink offer the plans with the most data (1-2 GB).

Internet

Some internet providers offer discounted internet to low-income households. The cheapest way to receive internet is through PCs for People, a CTEP host site in St. Paul. The internet comes in the form of a mobile hotspot with unlimited data that works on the Sprint network.

Signing Up

You can either order online or go in person to receive a hotspot and an internet plan, with options for one month to one year of service. You will need to prove your eligibility by showing or scanning proof of income.  The hotspot plus a full year of internet is a little over $200.

Tips

  • Going in person to PCs for People can be cheaper, as they sometimes offer discounted refurbished hotspots.

  • PCs for People also offers refurbished desktop computers and laptops, most of which cost between $100 and $300. They have a really good online selection that changes regularly, and shipping is free.

Health Insurance

All AmeriCorps members qualify for free, comprehensive health insurance through Minnesota’s Medical Assistance program. Visit the Department of Human Services website to learn more about Medical Assistance. 

Signing Up

Complete an online application and upload proof of income. You should find out right away if you qualify. Once your application is approved, you can choose the insurance company that suits your needs and they will mail your insurance card and a packet of information about your plan. 

Tips 

  • Many members sign up for HealthPartners, which has no monthly cost, free to $3 copays for appointments, and $1 prescriptions. HealthPartners covers costs for medical, dental, vision, and mental health services. 

  • If you’re confused about the application process, or just want some help, Ramsey County Library offers one-to-one help for that specific reason. It’s offered on Tuesdays at the Maplewood branch and Wednesdays at the Roseville branch. Check their calendar for times and to schedule an appointment.

Student Loans

If you have student loans, completing a year (or two) of CTEP can really help. You don’t have to pay student loans during your service in AmeriCorps. In the first few days of being in CTEP, put your loans into forbearance using your MyAmeriCorps account (the same account you used to apply for CTEP). Your loan company will receive the forbearance request, and your account will show no monthly payment due. That’s it! Super easy and quick. Your loans will keep accruing interest, but AmeriCorps will pay for it! So don’t worry about chipping away at your loans during the year. 

Once you’ve completed your service, you will have access to your education award that’s about $6,000 per year, via MyAmeriCorps. You can use it to pay loans in one lump sum, make small payments, or keep the money for future schooling (it remains in your account for 10 years). 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

If you are currently in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, or you want to sign up, CTEP counts towards this time. This program pays off all of your student loans after 10 years of non-profit work (or 120 monthly payments). 

Other Tips for a Limited Budget

Gym Memberships

  • Many health insurance companies have healthy living incentives that reimburse you for exercising. If you work out 8-12 times a month at participating gyms, your insurance company will refund up to $20 directly into your bank account. See program details for HealthPartners, BlueCross BlueShield, and Medica.

  • The cheapest gym in the metro area is St. Paul's Fitness Center. They offer a year-long membership with access to twelve fitness rooms across the city. It costs $30/year if you live or work in St. Paul (SPNN is in St. Paul), and $60/year for anyone else. These memberships are cheap for a reason; the fitness centers are small and don’t have the equipment you’d find at a regular gym. But still, $30!

  • The second cheapest gym in the area is Planet Fitness, with membership options of $10 or $20 a month, and a yearly fee of about $50. They don’t require a contract and are eligible for insurance reimbursements, so if you regularly work out it can be free.

  • The Twin Cities YMCA has a few different options for discounted memberships. You can get income-based membership prices, discounts via SPNN’s YMCA partnership, and/or reimbursement from your insurance company. They don’t provide an easy way to estimate your discount online, so you’ll have to bring proof of income to a local YMCA.

 

Shopping

  • There are a bunch of thrift stores in the metro area, including Goodwill, Salvation Army, St Vincent’s (which sometimes has free food), and Savers. You can get a lot of surplus Target stuff at most Goodwills and this SalVal.

    • Tip: Tuesdays are usually sale days. Goodwill has 1/2 off tag sales and St Vincent’s has $1 tag sales. Holidays and holiday weekends almost always have sales, as do season changes.

  • The ReUse Program at the U of M sells cheap used furniture and other things, but their hours are really limited.

  • The Habitat for Humanity ReStore sells cheap used furniture and home improvement supplies. After the Habitat for Humanity Corps Day, or any other time you volunteer with them, you’ll receive a 30% off coupon for their stores.

  • Save money on all sorts of things by using Groupon, and keep an eye out for Groupon’s sales so you can pay even less.

  • Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace offer basically everything you would want to buy used.

  • FreeCycle is a clunky website with a lot of free stuff in Minneapolis and St Paul.

  • Shop the curbs! People constantly put free furniture out on curbs throughout the metro area. May and September are especially good times because it’s when college students are moving.

 

Bikes 

Cheap/Free Things to Do in the Cities

  • The Minneapolis Institute of Art is always free.

  • The Walker Art Center is free every Thursday evening from 5:00 to 9:00pm, and all day on the first Saturday of the month.

  • If you show your EBT card at the Science Museum of Minnesota, tickets cost $3 for general admission and $2 more for the Omnitheater. You can also ask the Science Museum CTEP for discounted admission. One of the Corps Days takes place here, and you’ll get free admission that day.

  • See a cheap movie in the cities. Tickets at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis and The Plaza Theater in Maplewood are always $2 or $3. A lot of other theaters have $5 Tuesdays.

  • The Thrifty Hipster is a reliable-ish site for finding happy hours and other deals in the Twin Cities.

  • Explore local events on City Pages.

  • Use your library card to get free or discounted tickets to certain events using SmART Pass.