In response to a recent inquiry from a financially insecure mother about how to get by, we asked poverty expert Joyce McCauley-Benner to weigh in. Here is their exchange:
Q. Hello! My beautiful daughter is now 13 years old and is a joy, but our life has been full of transitions and financial struggle due to young single parenthood and lack of a deeper support systems and help beyond her school and church relationships. I appreciate all that your organization provides and stands for. Do you know of any resources available to single, young mothers who are still greatly struggling socially, financially, and work/school schedule logistically as a result? I have not found resources regarding how to thrive in life after surviving young single motherhood, and our daily struggles are adversely affecting my now-teen daughter. Please advise.
A. I would tell you to look into all programs, not just ones at your Jobs and Family Services or Department of Human Services (each state calls it something different). You may not qualify for things like food stamps, Medicaid, or cash assistance, but there are other programs (such as the one I work for) called LiHEAP (utility assistance), which goes up to 175 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s actually $29,592.50 annually for a household of two. In some states, those programs are run by Community Action Agencies, and you should check for those.
You should also call your local community services, usually United Way, and they sometimes have a call center that will route you to private agencies offering help as well.
In addition, things like free and reduced meals at public schools also are based on a federal poverty rate, around 130 to 175 percent. So just because you don’t qualify for “public assistance” doesn’t mean there aren’t some programs you will qualify for. It depends what range your income is in and how far above the poverty level you are.
Schools, community centers, post offices, laundromats, libraries, and houses of worship are places to look on community boards for programs. Thrift shops, too!
Q. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my recent inquiry. More specifically, I was inquiring about practical life/time/work/personal management tips for single, young, poor mothers who are still struggling with the same chronic daily logistical issues well into their children’s teens.
A. In general, when I was raising my boys, I just learned to be OK with asking for help. It does indeed take a village to raise a child, especially as a single parent. I multitasked a lot. So while the boys were at a sports practice—as an example—I would use that time to go shopping, or get things done around the house, or work on homework while I was in school. A lot of other parents helped me with giving rides to my kids. I would try to offer things to other parents, and we would exchange help.
You do have to plan your days out. If I had to take a day off work or school, I would schedule as many other things on that day that I normally couldn’t get to. I don’t know if you live in a rural or urban area, so that can bring about different issues.
When I was in an urban area, I taught my kids at a young age about public transportation. I used my resources (WIC, food stamps, etc.) and went to local food pantries for extra food and supplies. I found free programs at the library, local art museum, etc. to entertain them.
You just do what you can and forget about “keeping up with the Joneses.” My son Josh, who is now 20, will tell you he is very grateful he grew up poor. He really learned to appreciate what he did have, and he learned how to navigate tough life situations. His friends who are now young adults don’t know much about “adulting,” but he does because we dealt with so much growing up.
It DOES get better and easier. Try to join some kind of mom group (even if it’s just online) to meet others and ask for help. Hope that helps more!