If it’s harder for single parents to make ends meet – and it is – then there’s a lot of hardship in the United States.
The U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center study of 130 countries. About 23% of children under 18 live with one parent.
The average in the world is only 7%. In China, only 3 % of children live in single-parent households. Should you move to China to make it easier financially?
Besides the fact you won’t be able to vote or have other civil liberties, the U.S. has lot of financial aid programs for the 19 million American parents who are trying to raise kids by themselves. About 15.7 million of them are women, according to a 2019 Statista survey.
The programs include assistance for widows and survivors of domestic violence, including health care and day care assistance; funds for food; housing aid; financial aid for higher education; and job training.
Government agencies provide much of the money, but charities and nonprofit organizations fund an assortment of assistance initiatives to ease what can be a tremendous burden.
“The weight of the causal evidence does indeed indicate that income poverty itself causes negative child outcomes, especially when poverty occurs in early childhood or persists throughout a large portion of childhood,” concluded a 2019 report by the National Academy of Sciences.
Here are some programs that can help single parents ease that weight. As with all government programs, there’s red tape. But single parents struggling to pay bills should put up with that aggravation and pursue every available dollar.
Government Programs for Single Parents
State social services programs funnel money from federal programs to help single mothers and fathers care from their children.
That amount of aid has jumped to historic levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, pumped $1.9 trillion into economic aid, on top of the $3.2 trillion from the CARES Act and COVID-19 relief bill passed under President Donald Trump..
The main forms of financial relief for families with children are stimulus checks and an expansion of child tax credits. The American Rescue Plan was the third omnibus relief package from Washington D.C., and it provides a third stimulus check of up to $1,400 per child.
As for taxes, families can also claim up to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for children up to age 17 for one year. The previous tax credit was $2,000 per child.
In a new twist, the stimulus bill calls on the IRS to pay the credit in advance to families on a monthly basis. This “child allowance” provision begins in June 2021.
A good place to become familiar with what’s available in your state is Benefits.gov, a comprehensive web site that also tells you how to apply to specific programs.
Some of the most widely available programs include:
- Temporary Aid for Needy Families. Commonly known by its acronym, TANF, this federal block grant program provides supplemental cash for up to two years to working parents who meet financial criteria.It had not received new federal funding in over a decade, but the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included $1 billion in emergency assistance funds. To qualify for TANF, single parents with children under age 6 must work or participate in job training for at least 20 hours a week. Parents with children older than 6 are required to work or train 30 hours a week or more.This is the federally funded, state administered medical care program that assists low-income people. Eligibility requirements vary, though many states expanded Medicaid eligibility as part of the Affordable Health Care Act. Children are more likely to be eligible than adults. The program offers help to pregnant women with prenatal and childbirth costs.
- Food Programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often called food stamps, helps people who are eligible for other forms of welfare pay for food. SNAP funds can be used for most foods, though not alcohol. Another alternative for pregnant and nursing mothers and children younger than 5 is Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides assistance to buy nutritional food including dairy products, peanut butter and cereal. SNAP benefits were increased about $25 per person each month in the first COVID-19 relief bill passed in 2020. That increase is through September 2021.
- Child care and job training. An assortment of programs provide funding for job training and child care for single parents. The goal is to help them qualify for jobs and provide child care while they are at work. Two programs, Head Start and Early Head Start, are available to families whose incomes fall below the poverty threshold. Both aim at preparing young children for school and provide a range of services including medical and dental care, early education and help with nutritional issues.
- The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers housing assistance through Section 8 housing vouchers, a program that targets very low-income people. Local public housing agencies distribute the vouchers which are used to help pay rent on dwellings that meet minimum health and safety standards. Applicants income must not exceed 50% of the median household income for the area where they plan to reside, though 75% of those who receive aid have incomes that don’t exceed 30% of the area median. For information contact your local public housing agencies or a local HUD office.
Emergency Financial Assistance for Single Parents
Although everyone should make building an emergency fund a top priority, single parents often find the task extremely difficult. Yet without an emergency fund, a job loss or health problem can create a financial crisis that, in the worst cases, can lead to poor nutrition, eviction and possibly homelessness.
A variety of subprime lenders will lend you emergency cash, but be careful and review the terms such lenders might require. High interest rates, often in the 399% APR range, that frequently compound can make it very difficult to repay these loans. If you decide to pursue an emergency loan, you should have a plan for repaying it quickly.
Single parents should contact their state social services agency to learn more about programs that are available. As mentioned earlier, states administer various federal programs for single parents, so a state office or website is a good place to begin research. You can also visit a local library and ask a librarian for help tracking down relevant information. 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.
Be leery of anyone who charges a fee to help you get a government grant. Government grants generally flow to institutions or agencies. If someone suggests they have access to government stipends, you are probably dealing with a scam artist. Money through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program is available, but the federal government grants the money to state and territorial governments which distribute benefits after determining whether you are eligible. You can only access TANF money through a TANF agency in your area.
Housing Assistance for Single Parents
The pandemic wreaked havoc on housing budgets. About 13.5 million Americans were behind on their rent in 2021, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill provided $50 billion in housing assistance. Links to programs offering rental assistance can be found at the National Low Income Housing Coalition website.
Along with COVID-related programs, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 housing program provide rental assistance to low-income families, many of whom are single-parent households. One part of Section 8 subsidizes landlords who build or renovate housing and reserve a percentage of the rental units for low income families. The other part provides direct assistance to qualified low-incomed tenants.
To see if you qualify for Section 8 assistance you must demonstrate that your income falls below certain thresholds. You can use the HUD website to learn if your income makes you eligible for the Section 8 program.
The website contains income limit tables, which vary according to where you live, and references to properties with Section 8 set asides. As mentioned earlier in this article, Section 8 also provides rental assistance vouchers to qualified people who want to find their own rentals. You should contact as local HUD office for more information.
Individual states also operate their own programs, some that use federal funds to cover part of their subsidies. The U.S. HUD website contains contact information for these programs.
Finally, public housing is also available around the country, most commonly in urban areas. Federal officials from HUD oversee this housing, which is often clustered in projects. You should investigate what is available through HUD or a state public housing agency. In many cities, public housing has a reputation for crime and maintenance problems, so it pays to do research before applying for a unit.
Financial Assistance for Education
While most higher education financial aid programs are open to anyone based on academic qualifications and financial need, a number of grants are earmarked for single mothers and fathers.
One of the best-known programs is Raise the Nation, a scholarship fund from the Raise the Nation Foundation. Another scholarship, the Capture the Dream fund, is available to single parents in the San Francisco Bay area in northern California. Soroptimist, an organization that supports single mothers, offers scholarships though its Live Your Dream, a program that provide $2 million in grants to 1,500 women a year to advance their educations.
Finding scholarships can take time. Some are available to single parents wishing to pursue a degree, others help children of single parents hoping to attend college. Many help both.
Pell Grants are a major source of higher education fund that the federal government provides to low- and moderate-income families based on need. In the 2021-2022 academic year, the maximum grant is 6,495 and the minimum is $650. Students can apply for Pell Grants and other federal financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which can be obtained through any college financial aid office.
The U.S. Department of Education also maintains a list of state financial aid agencies on its web site, which is helpful in tracking down what if available from state governments. Some state programs specifically target single parents with grants to help them enter a college or university.
About The Author
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
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