Financial Assistance for Single Parents

Raising a child is expensive. Doing it on your own is a scramble. The government has programs to ease the burden, and if you're behind on your bills there is help for that too.

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Raising a child is expensive. Doing it on your own is a scramble. Grants for single parents, in the form of direct aid as well as programs and resources that can help ease the burden are available from the government, as well as nonprofit organizations and charities.

About 19.4 million parents in the U.S. are raising children without a partner, and 15.4 million of them are single mothers, according to the U.S. Census. About 30% of single parents in 2021 lived below the poverty line, compared to 6% of two-parent households, with the number increasing for Black single mothers. About 23% of children under 18 live in the U.S. live with one parent, the highest percentage in the world, according to a 2019 Pew study.

Multiple studies show that children who are raised in poverty are at a disadvantage that can continue to cause issues into adulthood. Programs that help feed children and families, support employment for parents, provide housing, education, assistance for windows, assistance for people experiencing domestic violence, and other financial support, are designed to help lift children and their families out of that spiral.

State social services funnel money from federal programs to help single parents care for their children. A good place to become familiar with available grants and other aid for single parents is at, a comprehensive website that also has information on how to apply to specific programs.

Government Programs for Single Parents

Some of the most widely available government programs are:

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

TANF is a federal program that provides grants to states, with states distributing the money for programs that help low-income families with children, as well as pregnant women. States have flexibility on how they can use the money, so every state’s program is different. The aim of TANF is to help low-income families with children achieve economic self-sufficiency. States provide monthly cash assistance payments that can last two to five years, depending on the state, as well as a wide range of services. There may be work requirements associated with benefits, depending on the state. TANF has a webpage that links to each state’s services.

Food Assistance for Single Parents

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Previously known as food stamps, SNAP provides a monthly cash benefit to help pay for nutritious food. The benefit is loaded on a debit card, and the amount depends on income and family size. It is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered through state governments. States have differing income eligibility requirements, but all are tied to the federal poverty line and change each year as the FPL changes. It can only be used for certain kinds of foods but can also be used for seeds for a vegetable garden; it can’t be used for alcohol or fast food.

Woman, Infants and Children (WIC): The program is an offshoot of SNAP and provides additional benefits for pregnant and nursing mothers and children younger than 5. It provides access to nutritious food, including dairy products, peanut butter, and cereal.

National School Lunch Program (NSLP): Another USDA program, NSLP provides nutritionally balanced low-cost or free lunches in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions. Some schools use the Community Eligibility Provision to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students. Parents in areas that don’t qualify for CEP must fill out an application for free meals for their children at their school. Eligibility is based on income. The child’s school can provide information.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP): The USDA provides healthy and nutritious food to states, which distribute it to organizations like food banks that directly service the public, as well as Community Action Programs and other agencies that provide it directly to low-income families.

» Learn More: Help for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Child Care and Job Training

Several government programs provide job training and child care for single parents. The names of the programs may differ by state. Most are funded by federal grants through several agencies.

TANF: Besides providing emergency food assistance, also is designed to offer job training and child care support, with programs varying depending on the state. Details can be found on your state’s Department of Health and Human Services website.

Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP): States administer this program under their own guidelines, funded by a federal Child Care and Development Block Grant. The program supports child care for parents who are working, job-hunting, or going to school, with parents contributing what they can afford to the child care costs. The federal Administration for Children and Families provides links to state CCAP services.

Community Action Agencies: Community Action Programs, are also funded by a federal grant, created through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 with the goal that no American family should live in poverty. Local CAA or CAP programs offer child care, early education, job training and other resources for parents, food, and support. Nationally, CAA has instituted a “whole family approach” that offers life coaching and helps both parents and children with a variety of support that will help a family build a stronger future. Look for your county CAA or CAP for information on what is offered where you live.

Head Start: A program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is for children up to age 5, and provides early education, medical and dental care, early education and help with nutritional issues as well as resources for pregnant women. Eligible families are those with incomes at or below the federal poverty guidelines, those who are enrolled in TANF, SNAP, get Supplemental Security Income, children in the foster care system or those experiencing homelessness. Some programs also accept a limited number of children who do not meet eligibility criteria.

Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS): This program is for parents who are seeking a post-high school education and provides on-campus child care. Parents who are eligible for PELL grants can make use of the service, which is funded by a federal grant that goes directly to colleges and universities. Check with your university or college to see if they supply the service, and if you’re school-shopping, you may want to make CCAMPIS funding at the school part of your checklist.

Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program: Single parents (as well as other students) who get financial aid to go to college also usually qualify for FWS, which puts students in jobs up to 20 hours a week to help pay education costs. The jobs may be on-campus or off but are often related to the college or in the student’s field of study. To be eligible, a student must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Housing Assistance for Single Parents

The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers several forms of housing assistance, administered through state housing authorities or agencies. HUD’s major program to support low-income families who need help paying rent is the housing choice voucher program. The program helps renters afford safe and sanitary housing, allowing participants to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments. The housing agency pays the landlord a portion of the rent, with the participant making up the difference. To qualify for the program, a participant’s income must be below a certain level, which varies by location. Housing agencies also provide housing for families who qualify.

Many states have additional programs that include resources and financial education for low-income people seeking housing. State housing agencies also have homebuyer classes, budgeting resources and other educational and support tools for single parents and others who need housing help. The HUD website has links to all states’ resources.

» Learn More:

Emergency Financial Assistance for Single Parents

There are times when a single parent may need emergency assistance that goes beyond what’s available from government programs. Emergency loans are available online, but usually come with some risk. When considering borrowing from a subprime lender, review the terms carefully. Payday and other types of quick loans often come with interest in the 399% APR range, which can make them very difficult to repay and just make a bad financial situation worse. If you pursue an emergency loan, have a plan for repaying it quickly.

Don’t do business with anyone who charges a fee to help you get a government grant. Government grants for single parents that go directly to individuals (SNAP and TANF, for instance), only come from the government agency and you must apply through that agency. If someone suggests they have access to government money, it is probably a scam.

Before taking out a quick cash loan, single parents should contact their state social services to learn more about available programs. Your local library is also a good resource. A librarian can help you track down information, and most libraries have free wifi and computers that you can use onsite. Churches and charities are also a good resource. They often have funds to aid families with emergencies and can offer suggestions that might guide you through a financial crisis.

Financial Assistance for Education

While most higher education financial aid programs are open to anyone, based on academic qualifications and financial need, there are also grants earmarked for single parents, often for specific programs or locations. For instance, the Education Foundation for Women in Accounting offers a Women in Transition scholarship of up to $16,000 for single mothers and other women who are the primary caregivers of their family and want to pursue a career in accounting.

The most common grant for single parents, and all other students who need help paying for college, is the Pell Grant. It is a grant, not a loan. You do not have to pay the money back. The maximum Pell Grant amount for the 2023-24 academic year was $7,395, and the maximum increases every year. The amount awarded to a student depends on how much you or your family can pay, how much tuition at the school is and whether you are a full or part-time student. Pell Grants are usually part of a financial aid package that may also include student loans and work-study aid. Application is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which can be found online or through your college financial aid office.

Finding scholarships can take time. Some are available to single parents who want to pursue a degree, others help children of single parents who want to attend college. Many help both.

The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of state financial aid agencies on its website, which is a good place to begin when looking for scholarships and grants for single parents. The U.S. Department of Labor also has a free scholarship search tool. When doing your research, try to avoid sites where you have to register to get scholarship details. Never pay to access scholarship information. There is plenty of free information available.

What If I Don’t Qualify for Financial Assistance?

Most assistance for single parents has income qualifications that you may not meet. The U.S. poverty guideline for individuals in 2023 was $14,580; it was $30,000 for a family of four. Many programs, including housing support, go by an “area median income,” that is higher than that.

If you are a single parent seeking assistance, find out if you qualify rather than assuming you don’t. For instance, estimates are that up to 20% of working low-income people in the U.S. who qualify for SNAP don’t enroll. That rate is much higher in some states, with the highest at 43% in Wyoming.

Whether you earn too much to qualify for assistance, or if you qualify, but need more help, want to eliminate debt, or strengthen your financial foundation, there are options beyond government programs.

Some of these options work for everyone, some depend on financial situation:

  • Credit Counseling: No matter what your financial situation, a counselor at a nonprofit credit counseling agency, housing agency or other organization can review your finances and resources, as well as offer suggestions on where to get financial help or eliminate debt. In most cases, talking to a credit counselor is free.
  • Credit counseling agencies: Nonprofit credit counseling agencies offer free credit counseling, and because they are nonprofit, they must offer advice that’s in your best interest, rather than try to sell you a product. The best credit counseling agencies will review all debt elimination options with you, as well as go over budgeting and point you to resources and financial education tools.
  • Budgeting: Creating a budget will help you understand how much money you have available for bills and where you need to cut expenses. It is the first step toward any financial solution for every household.
  • Building an emergency fund: No matter what your financial situation, having an emergency financial plan will ensure that you have money for an unexpected expense.
  • Debt consolidation: A low-interest loan that consolidates high-interest debt, like credit cards, is an option for single parents who have a good enough credit score to get a loan that saves them money.
  • Debt management plan: Offered by nonprofit credit counseling agencies, DMPs eliminate high-interest debt in 3-5 years through one fixed monthly payment. The credit counselor works with your creditors to lower interest rates, lowering your debt amount, and you make the payment to the agency.
  • Debt settlement: With debt settlement, you don’t pay the entire balance of the debt, but make monthly payments into an escrow account while the for-profit debt settlement company negotiates with creditors for lower payments. This will have a negative impact on your credit, so consider it carefully before signing on.
  • Nonprofit debt settlement: Nonprofit debt settlement is offered by credit counseling agencies, and sometimes called “credit card forgiveness.” As with for-profit debt settlement, you don’t pay the full balance, but unlike for-profit, your payments immediately go to creditors and there is no long wait while they are not getting paid. This is a new product, so some of your creditors may not have joined.

About The Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has been writing about finance, banking, investment, entrepreneurship, real estate and other related topics for more than 30 years. She started as the “Business Beat” columnist for the now-defunct Haverhill (Mass.) Gazette and currently is one of the hosts of the Mainebiz business-focused podcast, “The Day that Changed Everything” in addition to her daily writing. She also is is the author of three mystery novels and two nonfiction books.


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