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Finances for Single Moms
Written by Julie Rosso

Please Note: We are unable to answer questions concerning where to find assistance, provide assistance or scholarships, etc. This article is presented as is for information purposes only.

There are many ways to become a single mom, but some of the crueler methods include divorce and widowhood, which may leave no time for planning ahead. Often the most important need of the newly-single mom is financial assistance during the transition period.

Many sources of help exist but are often hard to find. Here are some places to look for assistance. (Unfortunately, these differ from state to state so it's impossible to give specific information):

1. DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES:
Assistance which may be available: Cash assistance (AFDC or welfare), food stamps, medical assistance (Medicaid), medical programs for pregnant women and children, child support enforcement, child daycare subsidies/assistance.

To qualify: Be income eligible and meet other guidelines such as available assets, cost of your housing, etc.

To find: Look in your phone book in the government pages. DSS is usually a state agency, which could be listed under Health and Human Services.

How to apply: Call first for information. In my state, you must go to their offices and fill out applications, providing any paperwork they ask for (such as pay stubs, bank account statements, etc.) You will see a caseworker who will interview you. You will receive something in the mail telling you if you are accepted or not, and if not, you may appeal the decision. As a frame of reference, it took me 3.5 months to get my food stamps.

My experience: DSS can be very difficult to deal with. There are loads of paperwork, few caseworkers, and delays, and in my case anyway, I felt as though I was being treated as less than human. However, you do what you have to do when your kids are hungry, so hang in there and keep your dignity. Especially in this case, PERSISTENCE PAYS.

2. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children):
What it is: A federal program which provides healthy foods and nutrition information to pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, and infants and children under age 5. Most people who are income eligible can qualify with some sort of nutrition need. WIC is currently underfunded, so if you are at the top of the income bracket, you may not be served even if you qualify.

Assistance which may be available: Supplemental food such as milk, cheese, cereal, peanut butter, juice, and infant formula; breastfeeding information and support, nutritional information and counseling.

To qualify: Be income eligible and have a nutritional need, and be either pregnant or up to 6 months postpartum for non-breastfeeding moms, up to 12 months postpartum for breastfeeding moms, also for infants and children under age 5.

To be eligible on the basis of income, applicants' gross income (i.e. before taxes are withheld) must fall at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines. Click here for WIC Income Eligibility Guidelines.

For WIC, an unborn child counts as a family dependent from conception.

To find: Look in your phone book in the government pages. WIC may be listed under federal, state or local government.

How to apply: Call first and make an appointment. Your eligibility will be checked. For a child, height, weight, and iron count may be taken. To help determine nutritional need, you may fill out forms about you and your child's eating habits.

My experience: WIC was the most helpful, nicest agency to deal with. I was treated with respect in every contact with them.

Periodically you will be asked to recertify your eligibility.

3. SCHOOL LUNCH (and BREAKFAST) PROGRAMS:
A federally-funded nutrition program, school lunch programs provide free or reduced cost lunches for eligible students. To be eligible for free lunches, the student's family income must be at or below 130% of poverty level. To be eligible for reduced price lunches (40 cents per meal), the student's family income must be between 130%-185% of poverty level. Depending on the federal budget, breakfast programs may be available as well. Check with your school for more information on these programs.

One problem with these programs...kids may be embarrassed to use them. Some school systems are working on new ways to administer these programs which would overcome this problem.

4. FOOD PROGRAMS:
Includes food co-ops, where you donate volunteer time for discounted food package (there's one called SHARE; call 1-800-4-SHARE-5), churches which may provide free meals and/or distribute food, food pantries and kitchens. Find information on food co-ops in the Directory of US Food Cooperatives and SHARE (Self Help And Resource Exchange).

5. FUEL FUND/HEATING ASSISTANCE:
Available from many gas/electric utilities, this may include grants of money to help pay for your utilities and weatherproofing assistance to help lower your gas/electric bills. Contact your local utilities for information.

6. PRESCRIPTION DRUG ASSISTANCE:
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Many drug manufacturers have programs for needy customers; contact the manufacturer or your doctor for more information. Also, investigate mail order pharmacies for savings on prescriptions that you use on a long-term basis. (This site was written for AIDS patients and is a bit dated, but the general information presented applies to everyone and is still useful.

7. LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT:
Often a county service. I found the County Health Nurse to be the best source of information on assistance. Your county may offer free immunizations for children, free prenatal vitamins, free flu shots, prenatal care, dental care for children (sliding scale), counseling, moms support groups. They may also provide information on other services such as medical assistance/health insurance, breastfeeding, support group meetings, child care, school financial aid, etc.

8. YWCA:
May offer the same assistance/information as the local health department.

9. LOCAL LIBRARY:
Look at all the brochures and bulletin boards available. I found some valuable information there, including sliding scale counseling sponsored by the United Way. Your local library is a terrific source of free entertainment and information anyway; why not stop in regularly? You may also find access to the internet and computer listings of local resources. Also ask the librarians where you can find help.

10. UNITED WAY:
Call them to find out what resources they can offer you.

11. PARENTS WITHOUT PARTNERS:
Support group for unmarried parents.

12. LALECHE LEAGUE:
Breastfeeding support group.

13. LOCAL CHURCHES

14. CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT AGENCY
location by state

15. LEGAL AID:
Free legal help for income-eligible people.

16. HOMEOWNERS PROPERTY TAX CREDITS:
Some states will reduce your property taxes if you are income eligible. Check with your county.

17. COLLEGE FINANCIAL AID:
In the form of scholarships, grants, loans. Check with your local college (often the community college is most accessible and helpful) for more information. Also check out Grants for Single Mothers which is a wonderful resource for learning about grant types single mothers might want to consider along with advice on how to apply for them.

18. CONSUMER CREDIT COUNSELING SERVICE:
May be able to help with credit problems, set up payment plans with creditors, provide legal services, help with budgeting.

19. YOUR LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL LEGISLATORS:
Their offices may be able to direct you to available assistance. Congressmen - Senators - state/local government


Read an overview of government nutrition programs such as child care, food stamps, school lunch and breakfast and WIC. Also check out information on USDA Food and Consumer Services (including food stamps, WIC, nutrition), WIC, the school lunch program, Medicaid, and Welfare Reform Updates and Information.

Everywhere you go, ask if they know someone else who could help you. Sometimes the help can be very hard to find even though it's there.

And most importantly . . . BE PERSISTENT! Many programs (especially government-run ones) count on you giving up so they have less people to serve. Don't do it! These benefits are there for you, and you have helped finance them with your taxes. Make sure you get what you need, and good luck!

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