This article, originally published in June of 2017 as “6 Mobile Apps That Can Help Low-Income Families,” was one of our most commented on and referred to.  An ever-growing segment of today’s population, low-income families are typically underserved by the mobile app market and perhaps technology in general, but here are a few that we feel noteworthy. We’ve updated the article with two new additions that cater to the underbanked and to the underemployed populations.


We live in era of the internet. We can web surf or stream movies directly from our smart TV’s, or watch the ball game on a tablet or laptop connected invisibly to a wireless router. The internet of things completely envelops our lives, and while we complain about the price, we know we would not want to live without it.

But for some, there are no wireless routers at home, there may not even be a computer. According to research, about 70% of low-income consumers have smartphones as their as their primary means of connecting to the web.  For them, the information age is limited to what can be easily retrieved on a small screen.

In that vein, here are seven mobile applications (plus two online only) that can help low income families access information such as “Where can I get free summer meals for my children”, or “Where is the nearest grocery store that accepts food stamps,” or “What kinds of jobs am I qualified for?”.

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Fresh EBT – (iOS/Android/English/Spanish/Free)

For those who qualify, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly Food Stamps helps those struggling to put food on the table.  Benefits are paid out through a monthly credit via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT card, similar to a debit or gift card.  These benefits can be used to purchase qualified food items at participating grocery stores. But like a gift card, knowing your balance after you’ve made some purchases can be tricky.

Some, but not all states have an online access program to check your account balance.  If not, it’s a call to an 800 number where you must enter your 16 digit card number and PIN to find out just how much is left for groceries

The Fresh EBT app, available in every state, gives the 42 million food stamp recipients an easy way to check their balances from their smartphone. Users can view their balance, pull up a map showing locations of stores, farmers markets and food pantries that accept SNAP, or browse featured deals at nearby grocery stores.  The app also contains a convenient shopping list feature nas well as budgeting tools.


 Range – (iOS/Android/Windows Store/English/Spanish/Free)

For millions of youth, the beginning of summer also signals the beginning of a long period of food insecurity.  With schools closed students who count on their free or reduced-price school meal programs may face hardships, as well as families who now have additional meals to buy.  The Summer Meals program administered by the USDA tries to cover that gap by providing free meals at community sites for any child 18 years old or younger.  

 

Depending on the site, meals can include a combination of breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner and can sometimes also offer fun/educational activities.  The meal sites are typically hosted by libraries, schools, churches, and community centers and may change from year to year, so finding a site nearby is sometimes problematic.

The Range app uses the USDA database to let parents see the current locations of these sites on a map, get directions, obtain hours of operation and a list of services provided. With Range, parents and children have mobile access to various meal site locations in their area.  The database will continue to be updated throughout June so keep checking back if no sites immediately show up on your map.

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 Aspiration – (iOS/Android/English/Free)

For those living paycheck to paycheck, banking itself has become a luxury.  Most financial institutions now charge checking accounts a monthly service fee or require a high minimum monthly balance to maintain.  Also, if you use an ATM at a different bank you may incur additional fees.  For the affluent or the middle class, the fees are more of a nuisance than a barrier – but for those in poverty, the fees can use up a significant percentage of the account balance.

Aspiration’s Summit account has no minimum monthly balance, no monthly service fees, and no ATM fees.

Accounts are available to any US citizen or permanent resident with a Social Security Number and a permanent US address.

Aspiration also donates a dime of every dollar it makes to charities helping struggling Americans start businesses and build better lives.


Earn Starter Savings Program – (online only/English/Spanish/Chinese/Free)

We’ve all heard the adage “It’s not how much you earn, it’s how much you save.”  Unfortunately, research shows that far too many of us are having a difficult time with the second part. According to a recent report by Bankrate, nearly six in 10 Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $1,000 unplanned expense.  For many low-income families, there are no savings at all.

Earn Starter Savings Program is an online program designed to kick-start a habit of saving.  For those who meet an income requirement (household income must be at or below 80% of the Area Median Income for the county of residence) and have a bank account, they can set up a savings rewards program.  The six-month program will pay a $10 reward for each month that at least $20 is saved –  a maximum of $60 in rewards.  After the six month period, users can continue with the program but no rewards will be given.

An incentive to open a bank account, an incentive to save and once completed, $60 in the pocket of the saver.  For those struggling, each dollar counts.


CareerOneStop’s Skills Matcher  – (online only/English/Spanish/Free)

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, CareerOneStop offers free employment and career resources to job seekers throughout the United States.

The newest tool in their toolbox is an online (although it works well with tablets & smartphones) program called Skills Matcher that rates a person’s skill set to a range of over 900 O*NET occupations – complete with the average pay, education needed, and current outlook for job opportunities.

It also works in reverse, jobs seekers can research specific jobs to see what skills, education or certifications are needed, as well as search for local training programs and job postings.  Skills Matcher is available in English and Spanish.


Fed 40 – (iOS/Android/English/Free)

Fed 40 is looking to transform the typical food pantry model by delivering food directly to those in need.  The app allows the user to fill out a basic form detailing their income, household size, and food need. If approved, Fed 40 will send 40 healthy meal packs out the very next day.

Dave Green, CEO of Feeding Children Everywhere that created the app describes it as “the food pantry of the future, designed to disrupt hunger here in the U.S.”

Currently, there are two types of meal packs,  Red Lentil Jambalaya – composed of lentils, rice, dehydrated vegetables and Pink Himalayan Salt and Apple Pie Oats – containing crispy puffed brown rice, Scottish oats, dehydrated apple and nutmeg.  The packs can be eaten by themselves as a meal or combined with a protein such as chicken (recipes are offered on the site and instructional cooking videos can be found on YouTube).

Fed 40, which launched in early June, has already distributed over 36,000 meals. While initially focusing on providing emergency food services, Feeding Children Everywhere envisions the app eventually linking low income individuals to other needed resources such as financial literacy, job search aid, and for some, getting their first ID.

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 Flipp – (iOS/Android/English/Free)

 

No longer get the Sunday paper but still want to know what’s on sale?

Flipp is a way to bring circulars from over 800 retailers directly to your phone. You can search for specific items or simply browse through your favorite store’s flyer. 

Create a shopping list to instantly compare prices on hundreds of grocery items and load in your reward card information for more savings.  It’s an easy way to save money off your grocery bill each week.

As a side note, many low income people try to stretch their food budget by buying inexpensive, lower quality foods.  Typically, these foods are high in sodium, fat and sugar.  Regular consumption of these foods invites long term health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. The treatment for those conditions is often multiple doctors visits and expensive medications, further exacerbating the already tight budgets.  

 

The Luvo CheckIt app (iOS/English/Free)  is a convenient way to see if a packaged food item is healthy for you by simply scanning the bar code.  

The app gives good ratings on less processed foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and lower ratings on foods that contain added sugars or high saturated fat or sodium content. 

The app also offers general wellness and nutrition tips.

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Food Keeper – (iOS/Android/English/Spanish/Portugese/Free)

Ever looked in the back of your refrigerator to find something so old it’s unrecognizable?  Surveys estimate that over 20% of the food we bring back from the grocery store gets wasted.  Fresh produce, meats, fish and poultry are some of the items most vulnerable too being tossed – and some of the most expensive.  That unrecognizable item in your fridge, it’s just money thrown away.

The FoodKeeper mobile app, a collaboration of the USDA, Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute,  helps reduce food waste in the home by providing storage life information for over 400 food and beverage products. Filled with tips on the best ways to store food, it can also be programmed to send you a reminder when something in your fridge is about to spoil.  Easy to use with either swipe gestures or voice control, it helps answer the age-old question – “Is this still good?”