It’s no secret that single-parent families have been on the rise over the past several decades. It’s also no secret that higher education costs have raised dramatically as well.
Statistics About Single-Parent Families
Going to college is not necessarily a privilege as once considered in the past, but rather a necessity yo gain employment to survive.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, single-parent families are more than twice as likely to be considered low-income as two-parent families. As of 2007, 12.8 million children live in a household with income below the poverty level.
Low income and the one-parent family is a frustrating combination for attending college. While federal and/or state financial aid is available for these students, the amount of grants and loans have not kept up with the rising cost of higher education.
Although all types of families must make concessions for the student or parent to attend college, one-parent families usually have extremely limited income and no assets to assist with college expenses.
However, there are a number of resources available to low-income, one-parent families which may help with family income.
First, let’s take a look at the statistics. According to a 2007 article in DivorceMagazine.com, the total number of single fathers raising children under age 18 is 1,355,000, and total number of single mothers raising children under age 18 is 5,714,000 as of 2002, the most recent information available.
This is a staggering number of single-parent families with children under the age of 18. These children, and often the parent, dream of going to college. But how can they afford it?
Managing the Budget for a Single-Parent Family
Aid for Education
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is one source for federal and/or state funding. By completing the FAFSA, the student (whether child or parent) is applying for the Federal Pell Grant, Federal student loans (Stafford or Direct Lending), and Campus-Based aid (Federal Work Study, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, Perkins Loan).
With the exception of the student loans, all aid is need-based. These are all excellent opportunities for financial assistance and should be utilized, but it usually is not enough to cover tuition, fees, books, and living expenses, etc.
A parent attending college is most likely applying as an independent student and has the availability for additional loan resources, but there are other avenues that can be taken to avoid borrowing extreme amounts.
These other options are outside the realm of financial aid, but can assist families with reducing personal costs, thereby taking advantage of programs that may increase discretionary income.
Write Down Spending Habits
First and foremost, sacrifices must be made. As with any family with a college student, discretionary income bust be spent frugally.
To determine whether overspending can be eliminated, get a notebook and keep a journal of all expenses for at least three months. Then review expenses to see where cuts can be made.
Obviously, food and shelter cannot be compromised, but skip the McDonald’s and cook a meal. Forget upgrading the cell phone plan and go with the basic if it meets your needs.
Criticism and judgment is not the objective here. Reducing unnecessary costs can mean money in your pocket.
Aid for Medical Insurance
Besides personal sacrifices, there are a number of federal programs that may assist low-income, one-parent families in reducing household expenses.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), through their Insure Kids Now! program, offers free or low-cost child health insurance to families who qualify and do not have benefits for their children. Each state is different, so to determine if you qualify, call 1-877-KIDS-NOW or go to their website. Even paying a small amount for insurance may increase disposable income in the long run by reducing payments for expensive doctor and/or hospital visits.
Aid for Heating and Cooling Bills
The DHHS also offers program benefits for low-income families to help with heating and cooling costs.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is designed to help families with elderly residents or small children, and households where income is low but energy costs are high, and health and safety risks arise if bills are not paid. Again, each state has their own application and qualifications, so check to see if you qualify for assistance with your heating and cooling expenses.
Help Paying for the Essentials
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is available to parent(s) with children who cannot provide for the family’s basic needs. TANF carries the slang term of welfare, but don’t be embarrassed. While trying to better yourself by getting education, take advantage of this assistance if you qualify because the assistance is time-limited. TANF was created from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (ADFC) under President Clinton in 1996. States have been accorded their own rules and budget for awarding assistance, so check with your local or county human services office.
Aid for Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has developed a program to increase home ownership and affordable housing through its HUD program. There are income limits for families to qualify for HUD, or Section 8.
By qualifying for HUD, a parent may have reduced rental costs for apartment or public housing. Besides the federal programs, your state may also offer living assistance.
Organizations Helping Single Mothers
In addition to federal programs, there are a number of private organizations that offer assistance to single-parent or low-income families. CoAbode offers shared housing for mothers to reduce the cost of living expenses.
Basically, CoAbode helps single mothers find roommates with other single mothers to share expenses, thus increasing disposable income. Remember the ‘80s sitcom Kate and Allie? Same thing! CoAbode claims to reduce housing costs by one-half, as well as place children in a safer school district.
Sunshine Lady Foundation
The Sunshine Lady Foundation offers the Women’s Independence Scholarship Program to help survivors of domestic violence. Their goal is to provide this scholarship for women of domestic violence who want to get an education at any type of college, whether full or part time. Their goal is to help women gain employment and personal independence.
Resources in the Community
Heard of 2-1-1? It’s a free service for the community to access services such as food banks, utility assistance, housing, child care, etc., in your area.
Some states already have this service, but it is estimated that by 2008, 80% of states will have this available. You can check to see if your state has this by calling 2-1-1.
Do not forget to consider food banks as a resource for reducing living costs.
Also, utilize resale shops in your area for great bargains on good clothes. Don’t feel ashamed to buy from these establishments or even budget stores such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Some of the best clothes at the cheapest prices can be found in these stores!
Another great resource is Freecycle.org. A national program, the network is broken down by county or town. Everything listed is FREE. Members can either post an item to give away, or post a “want” to find something needed.
Young Men’s Christian Association & Young Women’s Christian Association
If you are in need of shelter, find your local Y. The YMCA or YWCA provides temporary and permanent shelter to spouses with children, especially those who are escaping a dangerous or abusive situation. They also have employment services, job training, and literacy programs available to those who need it.
One last comment is to take advantage of tax credits. It may require going to a tax preparer, but many families, especially low-income or single-parents, don’t realize they can benefit from at least one of the following:
Any one of these could significantly increase a tax fund. Often, there are free tax advisors available in towns or on college campuses that can help students if a tax prepare is not affordable.
Starting Your Search
There are a few resources out there for single-parent and/or low-income families. This is definitely not the limit. Start with local resources like your human services office, financial aid office, and city hall. Then access the U.S. government for additional resources. Lastly, do a web search for single-parent or low-income family financial resources.
Guaranteed, there are many more opportunities out there. However, be careful of sites that charge a fee for a scholarship search or application. Read the fine print with applications before you submit information via the Internet.