According to the U.S. Census, six of 10 children living with only their mother were at or below the poverty line, creating a need for financial assistance. Federal and state governments created several welfare benefits programs to help single mothers and their children. Welfare reform legislation in 1996 placed a greater emphasis on work and time limits on how long mothers can receive benefits. Welfare assistance is not designed to pay a family's total living expenses, but is a supplement to help alleviate poverty.
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Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF, is a block grant program which replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children, AFDC, in 1996 to reflect the welfare reform guidelines. The TANF program offers a cash grant to families each month for a period of up to two years and has work requirements. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, single parents with children under age six are required to spend 20 hours a week on work-related activities, including job training; those with children over age six must spend 30 hours a week in these tasks.
Medicaid is a federal program that covers medical care for certain low-income individuals. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services government agency, not all people who qualify for other forms of welfare qualify for Medicaid; the eligibility criteria for the two programs are different. Children in low-income families are more likely to qualify for Medicaid than are adults; however, low-income pregnant women can often receive Medicaid coverage for prenatal care and childbirth.
Food Stamps and WIC
Food stamps, also called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, provide vouchers for food for low-income individuals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, people who receive other forms of welfare assistance, such as TANF, are also eligible to receive food stamp benefits. Pregnant and nursing mothers and children under age five who have nutritional need may also receive assistance from the Women, Infants and Children program often referred to as WIC. Whereas food stamps can be used to buy nearly any type of food, WIC vouchers are only eligible for specific types of highly nutritious food, including dairy, eggs, peanut butter and cereal.
Benefits for Working
Single mothers can still receive some benefits while working, especially because the system now intends for welfare recipients to work. If their wages are low enough, working single mothers can still receive food stamps and possibly even Medicaid. Subsidies also help pay the high cost of child care while mothers are at work. State-funded job training programs and educational grants can also help single mothers become more qualified to get gainful employment.
The Section 8 program is administered by the U.S. Department of Urban Development and provides assistance in paying for housing. Eligibility for Section 8 requires a household income below 50 percent of the median income for the area. Because median incomes vary widely across the country, eligibility levels and benefit amounts also vary. The recipient is only required to spend 30 percent of their income on housing. The assistance is a voucher that covers the discrepancy between that 30 percent of income and actual cost of rental housing. Not all properties accept Section 8 vouchers and in some cities, long waiting lists for the program can mean years without assistance.