Imagine what it must be like to live on a mere $35 per week worth of food. Budgeting just $5 each day on food stamps1 is a virtually impossible task that sadly is a bitter reality for the poorest of the poor.
In today’s tough economy, it wouldn’t be so hard to imagine the plight of single women raising children alone.
Not to mention the many stigmas attached to them as “welfare queens” whom conservatives love to stigmatize as the biggest beneficiaries of government payouts.
And yet the rate of single motherhood has been steadily increasing over the past years.
The recent statistics show that in 2015, out of approximately 12 million single-parent households in the U.S, more than 80% were headed by single women — sadly, the majority still live in poverty.
There is, however, a plethora of anti-poverty programs for the poor — disproportionately single mothers. Over the years, the likes of TANF cash assistance, UI benefits, food stamps, Medicaid, and other non-cash supports have all played an important role in supporting these families in times of economic challenge.
Welfare Spending by Recipient Categories (2013)
Roughly half of this welfare assistance, or $470 billion goes to families with children, most of which are headed by single parents. Some 28% of spending goes to disabled persons. Another 14% goes to elderly persons.3
Though it isn’t a guaranteed entitlement, they are freely awarded on the basis of economic hardship — meaning priority is given to those with “the absolute highest levels of need”.
If you’re a single mother in need of “a helping hand”, listed below are some, if not all, “social safety net” programs that are made available to help you “survive” single motherhood — most of which are administered at the state level.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Women, Infants and Children Program
- Title X: The National Family Planning Program
- Section 8 Housing Voucher Program
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- Weatherization Assistance Program
- Unemployment Insurance
- Earned Income Tax Credit
Editor’s Note: The information provided here is by no means comprehensive and will vary by state to state. Regardless of best intention, to err is human. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you spot any.
1 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
TANF is the essential part of the safety net for very low-income families. Its primary aim is to help these families achieve self-sufficiency through a combination of short-term financial assistance and work opportunities.
It provides a small cash amount on a monthly basis for food, clothing, shelter and other essentials ― for up to a period of 60 months. This cash benefit is often referred to as “welfare”.
An unemployed single mom, with children under the age of 19, is eligible for assistance under TANF. However, the recipient is required participate in work activities for a certain number of hours each month.4
2 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The aim of SNAP — formerly the Food Stamp program, is to provide affordable and healthy meals to the neediest families, many of whom are low- to no income.
It is one of the most important components of the U.S. safety net. For many of the poorest Americans, SNAP has become the only form of income assistance they receive.5
In 2015, it helped more than 45 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet in a typical month, with children under the age of 18 being the largest recipient.
The assistance comes in the form of a debit card (EBT) which the recipient can use to purchase grocery items in any participating store within their locality.
To apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you must fill out an application and return it to a local SNAP office.
3 Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
WIC is a federal-funded nutrition program that provides free healthy foods to pregnant women, new mothers and children under 5 years of age who are considered to be “at nutritional risk”.
It is designed as a short-term program, with eligible recipients usually receiving benefits for six (6) to twelve (12) months.
Eligibility is based on household size, income and Federal Poverty Limits (FPL) but in most states, priority will be given to TANF recipients.
4 Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)
CCAP is a state-administered program that helps low-income families pay for child care while working, searching for a job or attending school or training.
Most states require families receiving child care assistance to contribute toward their child care costs based on a sliding fee scale that is designed to charge higher co-payments to families with higher income.
Eligibility guidelines vary state to state but in most cases, your income must not be greater than the income limit set by your State in which you reside.
5 Head Start / Early Head Start
Both Head Start and Early Head Start are federal programs designed to provide holistic assistance to preschool children from birth to age five. Eligibility is based on family income at or below the poverty level.
This assistance ranges from free medical and dental care, child education to health and nutrition to even parental involvement in the family. Pregnant women may also be eligible for Early Head Start.
You must apply to a Head Start or Early Head Start program in your community, closest to where you live. Use a Head Start locator to find a Head Start program near your home or call 1-866-763-6481.
6 Section 8 Rental Subsidy
Section 8 is a federal housing program assisting the neediest families to afford safe & decent rental housing. The program provides vouchers to very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to cover a portion of their rent.
If you’re eligible, you will receive a voucher that funds 70% of your rent and utilities, but as the renter it becomes your responsibility to pay for the remaining 30%.6
To apply, you contact either the local PHA serving your community or the Office of Public Housing within your local HUD office.
7 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
LIHEAP offers one-time financial assistance to qualifying low-income households who can’t afford to pay their home heating or cooling bills.
It is intended for those who are truly vulnerable: the disabled, elderly, and families with preschool-age children. Other assistance includes energy-related home repairs, weatherization, and energy crisis assistance.
For additional info on LIHEAP assistance, call the toll-free phone number at 1-866-674-6327 or contact your State’s LIHEAP office using the public inquiry telephone number.
8Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) enables low-income families to reduce their energy bills. In most states, priority is given to the elderly & families with children.
One of the primary factors affecting eligibility is income. Depending on what state you live in, you are eligible for weatherization if your income falls below the 200 percent poverty level.
To apply for weatherization assistance, find your state on the map on the Weatherization Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center (click here) and contact the agency listed.
9 Medicaid: Health Insurance for the Poor
For those with no medical insurance, Medicaid provides medical benefits to eligible families whose financial situation would be characterized as low income or very low income.
Medicaid isn’t the same thing as Medicare. While Medicaid is for the poor, Medicare pays for medical services for people aged 65 and older, and the disabled.
If you are a single mother who meet specific income criteria, Medicaid may be the option you need to get the much needed medical care — even if you’re unemployed.
Each state operates its own Medicaid program within federal guidelines — each with a different income level required to qualify for the same, higher in some and lower in others.
Beginning in 2014, those who earn less than 138% of the poverty level will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid under ObamaCare. If your state is expanding Medicaid, you’ll probably qualify if you make less than $16,000 a year — or $37,300 for a single mother of two.
This essentially means that millions of single mothers who were previously uninsured will now gain coverage under the new Medicaid expansion or “subsidized marketplace coverage”.
10 Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
CHIP provides health insurance to uninsured children (up to age 19) in families with incomes too high to qualify for the state’s Medicaid, but can’t afford private coverage on their own.
It covers children for everything they need — doctor visits, vaccination, dental, and vision. For most families, it’s free. Others will pay low monthly premiums, enrollment fees and co-pay for some services.
Like Medicaid, CHIP is administered independently by each state, with rules of its own. For additional information, make a free call to 1-877 KIDS NOW (1-877-543-7669)
11Title X: The National Family Planning Program
Title X — pronounced Title Ten — is the federal program dedicated solely to providing low-income families with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.
It provides funding to family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood, so that low-income women who do not have health insurance can get care at reduced rates, or in some cases, free.
Services include but not limited to, breast and pelvic exams, Pap smears and other cancer screenings, HIV testing, pregnancy testing and counseling, and affordable birth control.
For years, Title X, along with Medicaid, has been an important of source of primary health care for millions of women from low-income families. Of approximately 5 million patients served in 2011, 91% had incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.
12 National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
NSLP provides free lunches or discounted meals to eligible students whose family income falls below certain “poverty guidelines”.
Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced‐price meals.
If you’re already receiving food stamps, your child automatically qualifies for the free lunch program. Even if you do not, your child may qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
The easiest way to apply is to contact the school to fill out an application. Proof of income may be required.
13 The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
TEFAP is a Federal program that provides food to low-income Americans, regardless of age, both directly to families for home consumption and to emergency food providers like food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.
Eligibility criteria may include participation in existing food (SNAP) or other assistance programs (TANF) for which income is considered as a basis for eligibility.
Since this program is administered at the state level, it’s best to contact your State Distributing Agency for more information about TEFAP.
14 Local Food Banks
For starters, food bank isn’t a grant per se. It is a place where food is contributed and made available to those in need. It exists to help families who may not qualify for other welfare programs.
If you find yourself struggling to put food on the table, you can dial 2-1-1 on your telephone to locate a local food pantry or food bank in your area.
Feeding America has a network of over 200 food banks nationwide that provides food to more than 46 million people facing hunger, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors through food pantries and meal programs.
15 Unemployment Insurance
The Department of Labor provides weekly compensation to the unemployed who lost their jobs through no fault of their own — for up to 26 weeks.7 These benefits vary from state to state but average 46% of the average weekly wage.
For out-of-work single mothers who struggle to make ends meet, these benefits help make the pain of unemployment less of a burden by temporarily replacing part of their wages while they look for work.
To begin a claim, you must apply through the state unemployment agency. In many states, you are able to file a claim online or over the phone.
16Paid Family Leave
America does not guarantee new mothers paid leave. Although there are 12 weeks of job-guaranteed available under the Family and Medical Leave Act, it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt.
Only three (3) states in the country, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, offer up to six (6) weeks of paid family leave to employees to bond with a newborn baby or provide care for a seriously ill family member.
New York will join them effective Jan. 1, 2018, after passing the Paid Family Leave Benefits Law during the 2016 session.8
Eligible employees may receive up to $770.00 per week in Rhode Island, $595 per week in New Jersey and as much as $1000 in California.
However, paid family leave (a.k.a Family Leave Insurance) isn’t an entitlement. Rather it is an income replacement insurance that employees contribute to through a small deduction from their paycheck every month.
17 Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a tax benefit designed primarily to help low- to moderate-income individuals and families whose earned income falls below a certain limit — particularly those who owe little or no income tax.
The EITC is “refundable,” which means claiming it lowers the total amount of taxes owed and can result in a refund if the amount of the credit exceeds the tax liability — up to nearly $6,000.
For example, if your tax liability is only $960 and the credit you are allowed is $5,460, you may receive a refund check for $4,500.
The Child Tax Credit, on the other hand, reduces tax liability for families with children that may be worth as much as $1,000 per qualifying child depending upon your income.
18 The Federal Pell Grant
The Pell Grant program is the America’s largest student aid program. It provides grants of up to $5,815 to the neediest students to attend college. More than 74% of recipients had family income of less than $30,000.
This need-based grant offers one way for single mothers of limited means to “go back to school” and re-enter the workforce. And it’s free money that does not need to be repaid.
To be considered for a Pell Grant, you must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The deadline for submission is June 30 each year.
19 The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
Similar to the Pell Grant, FSEOG is a type of federal grant that is awarded to those with “the utmost need” for educational financial assistance.
Eligible students may be awarded anywhere between $100 and $4,000 a year based on the gravity of their needs and fund availability.
20 The Federal Work-Study Program
The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program is a type of federally funded student aid that gives single-parent students a way to earn money by doing part-time work on or off campus, often in their chosen field of study.
Students may work up to twenty (20) hours a week and receive a monthly paycheck — based on an hourly wage, which they can use for educational expenses.
However, this option will work only if you have minimal living expenses and have family support to meet your child care needs.
What if I don’t qualify for grants?
If you’re one of those who earn “too much” to qualify for benefits like food stamps, but “too little” to get by each month, you may, in times of crisis, contact your local churches, charitable organizations, and community agencies to find out whether they can offer some form of temporary assistance.
You may also dial 2-1-1 for help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling or whenever you need help paying your bills.
Remember, most of these assistance are temporary in nature, you should not rely solely on them — you should rather ensure that you strive to become self-sufficient so that you can provide for your family on your own.
- That’s the average allowance given to people who are living on food stamps. [↩]
- The Heritage Foundation, The War on Poverty After 50 Years [↩]
- The Heritage Foundation, Examining the Means-tested Welfare State: 79 Programs and $927 Billion in Annual Spending [↩]
- Single parents are required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. [↩]
- One in five SNAP households lives on cash income of less than $2 per person a day. [↩]
- The Section 8 program has historically been oversubscribed and waiting lists can run into the years. To find out about wait times in your area call your local public housing authority. [↩]
- Only two (2) states offer more than 26 weeks: Montana (28) and Massachusetts (30). [↩]
- Littler, Understanding New York’s New Paid Family Leave Law [↩]
- SMG, Expected Family Contribution [↩]