Food Assistance Programs for Single Parents

Getting Started
Providing nutritious food for yourself and your child can be costly and time-consuming. Single parents already face serious time and budget constraints. Thankfully, there is help. Americans are committed to stamping out childhood hunger.

Federally-funded programs and non-profit food banks provide eligible families with the assistance they need for food. Assistance can come in the form of food distribution or a monthly allowance provided through an Electronic Benefit Transfer Card (EBT).

Here are some options that are available to eligible families.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) - SNAP is a federally-funded, state administered program that provides allotments for the purchase of food and drinks to thousands of American citizens and eligible non-citizens. The recipients are diverse, including individuals, couples, 2-parent families, single-parent homes, the unemployed, part-time workers, and full-time employees.

An allotment of up to $357 per month for a single parent with one child can go a long way in supplementing the food budget. With funding, parents can purchase fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, fish, dairy products, and more. Advocates of SNAP recognize that children can grow up healthier and even smarter with the right nutritional choices for meals and snacks at home.

The exact amount of the allotment depends on household income and size. Funds are placed on an EBT which can be used at most grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies. The income restriction for a two-person parent and child family cannot exceed $1328 in most states. Countable family resources such as a bank account cannot exceed $2,250. Learn all the details here.

WIC (Women, Infants and Children) - The WIC program provides supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants, and children. Children who are diagnosed as nutritionally at risk maintain eligibility up to the age of 5. WIC has an eligibility requirement that income of recipients cannot exceed 185% of the federal poverty level. Families with Medicaid or TANF benefits are automatically eligible for WIC. While income is a consideration in all states, in some states, family resources such as bank accounts or the value of your car may not affect your eligibility for WIC.

WIC recipients are expected to follow through on doctor's appointments and on education opportunities to learn about proper nutrition. Learn all the details here.

TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) - TANF offers cash benefits to low-income families. These benefits can be directed toward purchase of food for the family. The program is designed to give temporary help to families so that they can achieve self-sufficiency. The beauty of the TANF program is that it provides resources to help single parents make long-term changes, securing a better financial state for the future.

Because this program is strategically planned to end a family's dependence on benefits, participants are eligible only for up to 5 years of benefits during a lifetime. Additionally, recipients must participate in work activities for 30 hours each week. Required work activity hours drop to 20 if a child under 6 is in the home. No work activity is required in the event that a child under 6 is in the home and no adequate child care is available. Recipients who fail to meet work requirements are faced with having benefits reduced or revoked.

Family resources such as a savings account cannot exceed $1000. The eligible family income for you and two children may be as low as $800 per month. Learn all the details here.

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provide meals either free or at a reduced cost for low-income families. These programs differ from SNAP and TANF in that family eligibility is not based on resources. It is based strictly on income. Families below 130% of the federal poverty line are eligible for free meals; families between 130% and 185% are eligible for reduced meals. Reduced-price meals may be as low as 30-40 cents.

Word tends to leak out as to which children are receiving free and reduced lunches. If your child attends a school where a high percentage of students receive benefits, there may be no stigma attached. If you live in a more affluent area where fewer students receive benefits, be prepared to explain to your child that this is a way you get some help to make sure everyone in your house gets healthy food for every meal, even on mornings when you're both too rushed to eat breakfast at home or to pack a lunch.

The application process goes through the school rather than through a local family services office. Schools send out applications at the start of the year; however families may apply at any time, not just at the beginning of the school year. Food resource programs are available in participating public and nonprofit private schools and in residential child care institutions. For more info on the SBP visit here. For more info on the NSLP visit here.

Because most programs are federally-funded but state administered, eligibility requirements and benefits vary slightly from state-to-state. To apply and get additional information particular to your state, you can contact the appropriate state or local office for each program. The US Department of Agriculture oversees all programs except TANF. TANF falls under the US Department of Health and Human Services. Some states provide online forms to download and mail. Alternately, you may want to make a visit to your local family services administration to double check that you are applying for the right program and submitting the right forms.

Some communities are able to provide food banks for needy families. Businesses and individuals make food and financial donations. Food commodities are then made available to eligible recipients. One of the largest organizations to provide this service is Feeding America. Two databases that list community food banks are FoodPantries.Org and PantryNet.Org.

If you worry about the nutrition your child is receiving, don't be afraid to contact an agency about receiving help. As you continue on your journey toward cutting costs and providing a higher income to meet your needs, you can receive support. Providing the right foods through your child's developmental years in within your reach.