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 economy characterized by underemployment and low-wage work, 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 2016, 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 grants for single mothers — the likes of TANF cash assistance, food stamps, EITC, Section 8, etc that have all played an important role in supporting these families in times of economic challenge.
Grants such as the Pell Grant is a unique need-based grant provided by the Department of Education that helps the neediest students to pay for college. Special emphasis is given to single parents who wish to complete their college education.
Eligibility for this grant is based on one’s financial need and the applicant is required to complete a FAFSA form each year to qualify — and it’s FREE.
U.S. Welfare Spending
In 2016, federal government spent over $732 billion on 13 of the largest welfare grants that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services to poor and lower income Americans.
Roughly half of this welfare assistance 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.2
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”.
Whether you’re a single mother “going back to school” or need help paying for bills, 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.
LIST OF GRANTS FOR SINGLE MOMS
- Federal Pell Grant
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
- Federal Work-Study
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
- Women, Infants and Children Program
- Child Care Assistance Program
- Head Start / Early Head Start
- Section 8 ― Housing Choice Voucher Program
- Public Housing Program
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- Weatherization Assistance Program
- Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Supplemental Security Income
- Title X: The National Family Planning Program
- National School Lunch Program
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program
- Local Food Banks
- Lifeline Program
- Unemployment Insurance
- Paid Family Leave
- Earned Income Tax Credit
- Grants for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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.
The two types of TANF grants are known as “child-only” and “family” grants. Child-only grants, designed to consider only the needs of the child, are usually smaller than family grants, about $8 per day for one child.
The second type of TANF grant you may be eligible for is a “family grant.” 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, although many states adopt shorter time limits.
These cash grants is often referred to as “welfare” and the conditions under which you can receive it largely depend on where you live. States with larger African American populations, all else equal, have less generous and more restrictive TANF policies.3
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
SNAP, the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, helped over 40 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, either in person, by mail, or by fax.
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) months to a year, at which time they must reapply.
The monthly WIC benefit package can provide a child between the ages of 1 and 5 with a dozen eggs, 16 quarts of milk, and $6 in vouchers for fruits and vegetables, among other foods.
Eligibility is determined by nutritional risk and incomes that fall below 185% of the poverty level6 but in most states, priority will be given to TANF recipients.
4 Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)
Funded by the Child Care and Development Block Grant, 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 promote “school readiness” of children from birth to age five. Early Head Start serves children from birth to 2 years old, and Head Start serves children 3 to 5 years old.
Eligibility is based on family income at or below the poverty level. Other factors that affect eligibility include homelessness, children in foster care, or receiving certain types of public assistance. Pregnant women may also be eligible for Early Head Start.
It provides a wide range of services — from free medical and dental care, child education to health and nutrition to even parental involvement in the family.
You must apply for 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 nearest you 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%.
For example, a single mother of two renting an apartment for $700 and working 30 hours a week at the minimum wage may receive a voucher worth about $440 a month.7
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 contact your local PHA serving your community.
7 Public Housing Program
Public Housing is one of the nation’s three main rental assistance programs, along with “Section 8” vouchers and project-based rental assistance.
Unlike Section 8, public housing allows eligible low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to live in public housing units, at a rent they could afford. Most tenants pay no more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities.
The program generally serves families with incomes up to 80% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which they choose to live but may vary area to area.
To apply for public housing, you must submit an application to the local housing authority (HA) in the city or town where you wish to reside. If the HA determines that you are eligible, your name will be put on a waiting list.
8 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 utility bills.8 In almost all cases, LIHEAP pays only a portion of the monthly bill, and the family pays the rest.
It is intended for those who are truly vulnerable: the disabled, elderly, and families with preschool-age children. Grants are paid directly to the utility company. No grant shall be made payable to the recipient.
To be eligible for a LIHEAP grant, the household income must not exceed the greater of 60% of the median income in the state or 150% of the poverty level AND no less than 110% of the poverty level.
If you need help paying bills or are in danger of being without heat, you can contact the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) via telephone at 1-866-674-6327 to find out where and how to apply for LIHEAP.
9Weatherization 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% 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.
10 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 133% 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 about $27,000 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”.
11 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.
In 2016, over 37 million children were enrolled in Medicaid — the primary source of coverage for low-income children and another 8.9 million were enrolled in CHIP.
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 (543-7669)
12Supplemental Security Income
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly cash assistance to people who are disabled, blind, or elderly. Since its launch in 1974, SSI has guaranteed a minimum level of income to those who qualify.
The current basic monthly SSI benefit is $735 for an individual and $1,100 for a couple.9 SSI recipients may also get noncash forms of assistance. In most states, anyone who receives SSI benefits is automatically eligible for Medicaid.
While the SSI is designed for a wide range of people like the blind or the elderly, the benefits also apply to children with disabilities whose parents have very little income or resources.
For many single parents with disabled child, SSI often represents their only source of income. But eligibility criteria are complicated and the application process time-consuming.
If you plan to apply for SSI, you can complete the application online at www.ssa.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to ask for an appointment with a Social Security representative
13Title 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, 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 4.0 million family planning users served in 2015, 66% had incomes at or below the federal poverty level.
14 National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
NSLP provides free lunches or discounted meals to eligible students whose family income falls below certain “poverty guidelines” — making it possible for schools to serve nutritious, inexpensive lunches to students each day.
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 any time during the school year to fill out a school meal application. Proof of income may be required.
Other School Meal Programs
- School Breakfast Program
provide free or reduced-price, nutritionally balanced meals on school days
- Summer Food Service Program
offers free, healthy breakfasts and lunches to kids over summer break
- Special Milk Program
provides milk to kids at schools and childcare centers that don’t offer the national school breakfast and lunch programs
15 The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
TEFAP is a federal grant 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.
Families that participate in the following means tested programs are also TEFAP eligible: Food Stamps/SNAP, TANF, WIC, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Head Start, Fuel Assistance or Veteran’s Aid.
Since this program is administered at the state level, it’s best to contact your State Distributing Agency for more information about TEFAP.
16 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.
Established in 1985, the Lifeline program has been around since the Reagan Administration as a means of helping low-income families afford connectivity and gain access to a “lifeline” of emergency services like 911.
The program provides a monthly phone or broadband internet subsidy to low-income individuals or families but limited to $9.25 per household per month.
Lifeline subsidy is not available only to “welfare recipients”. Although qualification criteria can vary from state to state, but in general, it is available to those who are trying to subsist on less than 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines.
18 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.10 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.
19Paid 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.11
New York will join them effective Jan. 1, 2018, after passing the Paid Family Leave Benefits Law during the 2016 session — starting off at 8 weeks and 50% of pay in 2018, and reaching 12 weeks and 67% of pay in 2021.12
D.C.’s and Washington’s law will take effect in 2020. Meanwhile, San Fransisco is only city in the nation that guarantees paid leave for new parents.
Eligible employees may receive up to $830.00 per week in Rhode Island, $630 per week in New Jersey and as much as $1000 in California and Washington.
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.
20 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 or more, depending on where you live.
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 and it’s partially refundable.
21Federal Pell Grant
The Pell Grant program is the America’s largest student aid program. It provides grants of up to $5,920 to the neediest students to attend college. About 72% 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 or as early as October 1.
22Federal 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 supplemental grants anywhere between $100 and $4,000 a year based on the gravity of their needs and fund availability.
23Federal Work-Study Program
The Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program is a type of federally funded student grant 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.
24Federal Student Loan
For single mothers “going back to school” who need more assistance beyond Pell grant, student loans — either subsidized or unsubsidized — are often offered as part of a total financial aid package.
Although the least desirable form of financial aid, federal student loans allow you to borrow money for college at interest rates that are lower than most private loans. And you may be able to defer interest payments until after you graduate.
GGrants for American Indians and Alaska Natives
If you are a member of a Native American tribal entity searching for federal grants or benefits, there are a variety of federal financial assistance opportunities specifically for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
While Grants.gov only posts grant opportunities designed to benefit organizations, your best bet to find grants that benefit you personally is NativeOneStop.gov, where you can browse a list of resources that you or a family member may be eligible to receive, including, but not limited to,
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Native Employment Works Program
- Indian Child and Family Education
- Urban Indian Health Program
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. The 2-1-1 service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Remember, most of these grants 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, Examining the Means-tested Welfare State: 79 Programs and $927 Billion in Annual Spending
- Urban Institute, Why Does Cash Welfare Depend on Where You Live?
- 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.
- USDA, WIC Income Eligibility Guidelines. Currently about $876 a week for a family of four.
- CBPP, Helping Low-Wage Workers Make Ends Meet
- Other assistance includes energy-related home repairs, weatherization, and energy crisis assistance.
- SSA, SSI Federal Payment Amounts for 2017
- Only two (2) states offer more than 26 weeks: Montana (28) and Massachusetts (30).
- What states offer paid family leave?
- NY State, Paid Family Leave: How it Works
- SMG, Expected Family Contribution