What Federal Programs Can Help Assist Single Parents?

By Cindy Chung
Many federal programs help eligible American families headed by single parents.

A single parent often has a significant amount of financial responsibility, if not sole responsibility, for her household's needs. Though a single parent may feel overwhelmed and stressed by her financial situation, federal programs may be able to help. The U.S. government provides support through programs for health care, housing, food, children's programs, financial assistance and educational loans. Federal programs often include financial criteria and other factors to determine eligibility.

Temporary Assistance

The federal government provides financial assistance to low-income families, including single parents with children, through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a welfare program that supports eligible families through agencies in each state. TANF-funded benefits include requirements for work-related activities such as employment, job-related training or education. If a single parent receives TANF assistance but does not participate in work activities as required by state law, she risks termination of the benefits. The TANF program also sets a five-year cap on these benefits for each family, unless the household qualifies for an exception under state law or receives state-funded benefits that do not come from federal funds. The WIC program also provides food packages to pregnant, low-income women and their children up to the age of five who are at nutritional risk (see Resources).

Programs for Children

The federal government funds county offices which provide Head Start services in each state. Head Start programs include educational activities intended to help young children with preparation for formal schooling, medical and dental services, access to nutritious meals, and socialization through play with other kids. When a single parent works full time, needs child care, or does not have the resources to provide educational experiences for a child, Head Start programs may be able to help. Eligibility for Head Start depends on the single parent's income and financial resources.

Health Care Programs

The federal government maintains health care programs for eligible families through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Low-income single parents may apply for Medicaid -- known as Medi-Cal in California -- to cover their family's health care costs if they meet the program's eligibility requirements, which consider each family's size, income and other financial resources. A single parent whose family does not qualify for Medicaid may be able to obtain health insurance coverage for children through the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The CHIP program covers children whose families do not qualify for Medicaid but who also cannot afford the cost of private insurance.

Housing Programs

The federal government oversees housing issues through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD provides rental assistance to eligible families, including the households of single parents, through housing choice vouchers. A parent can use the housing choice voucher to pay part of the family's rent from a private landlord. HUD also assists single parents who would like to become homeowners by providing information through the HUD Housing Counseling Program and by offering HUD-insured mortgages. Though HUD is a federal program, the agency relies on local and state agencies to administer its initiatives.

Educational Loans

The federal government helps low-income students who need financial assistance to pursue higher education and earn college degrees. The Pell Grant Program, for example, provides financial aid to college students through annual grants. The amount of the grant depends on the student's financial need, as calculated by U.S. Department of Education criteria that considers the student's educational expenses, household income and assets, household size and whether the student has parental support as a parent's dependent. A single parent with one income and the responsibility to support children can often demonstrate a high amount of financial need.

About the Author

Cindy Chung is a California-based professional writer. She writes for various websites on legal topics and other areas of interest. She holds a B.A. in education and a Juris Doctor.