Ready to Get a Leg Up on the System?

If you have ever filled out an application for government assistance with the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), you know what a drag it can be. There’s the emotional toll, the long lines and in-depth interviews, the blank stares and boxes to check. Sometimes it can feel like the system itself is like a gaping maw, hungry to keep you in it. In fact, once you are immersed in the system, there is little information or training given about how to actually get out of it.

According to one former Indiana social worker (who, duh, prefers to remain anonymous) in her state, social workers are actually trained to limit the information given to applicants about outside services. Why? Because every food stamp or SNAP dollar used is actually worth more than the dollar amount assigned to it by the government agencies who issue it. So, while the poor stimulate the economy, they benefit from it very little. But, with a little ingenuity, you can leave those days behind with a good plan and some assistance from outside of the FSSA.

Once you have followed steps about how to get government assistance in this article, check out the following tips to get help from beyond the limits of the system, so that you get on your own feet more quickly.

Visit the Salvation Army

If you go to your local trustee* to get assistance with rent or utilities, they will likely refer you to the Salvation Army for additional services. The Salvation Army has been helping low income families for decades, but they will require you to have yourself set up through FSAA first.

The Salvation Army is a Christian organization, but you don’t have to attend church to get assistance. They offer help with housing needs, utility bills, food, and even Christmas presents. Do get to know these people, because they can be your lifeline. When I was running from a domestic battery situation, this group went above and beyond to help me– but they pointedly stated their help was available because I was trying to help myself. I was working three jobs at the time, and I appreciated the fact that they went out of their way to acknowledge my efforts to help myself.

*Every city is divided into townships, and every township has an elected trustee. The trustee manages the finances for the township, as well as the “poor relief” funds, which can often help with rent and utility bills. To find the trustee for your township, call your local city hall.

Go to College

When you’re seeking help as a single parent, it’s vitally important to think about the future. Consider going back to school and getting your college degree. First of all, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and then start looking for an affordable educational solution. There are literally tons of grants and scholarships to get you through this. Today, you can even attend Stanford University for free if your income is too low by their standards. Because you’re in college, the FSSA won’t expect you to work full time, so you do get a bit of break that allows you to spend some time on your studies.

Buy a Home– Yes, We Said, Buy a Home!

You might already know that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can provide rental assistance on a regular basis so you don’t have to keep going to the trustee. However, HUD also helps people become homeowners as well. In fact, there are several programs that can help single parents buy a quality home at payments they can afford. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also offers home buying programs for low income families.

Maybe you don’t need a low income loan, but need assistance coming up with the down payment. This is where an Individual Development Account (IDA) comes in. The IDA is a savings match program that can be used to put a down payment on a home. You’ll need to attend classes to learn about budgeting and credit repair, but these classes are free and they provide the tools you need to manage your finances. When you start putting money in your savings account, you’ll be matched up to $3 for every dollar you put in. Savings for a down payment can add up quick when they are multiplied upon deposit.

Don’t overlook Habitat for Humanity. This is one service where your time really is money. You have to be able to afford a house payment, but they work with you so that the payment is reasonable. You actually help build your own home, which counts toward the overall price, but also gives you a sense of pride in your own home.

Seek Out Emergency Assistance

There are going to be times when you aren’t looking to buy a house or earn a degree two years down the road. You might need help right now. Use the tips below to find local help when you find yourself in an emergency situation.

  • Call the local police station to learn of any emergency programs. These people are the front lines of defense in your community and they know about hidden shelters and domestic battery resources.
  • Contact local churches. You don’t have to be a member of a church to get assistance. In most cases, if they can’t help you, they will refer you to someone who can.
  • Start looking in the phone book (or on the internet) under “Community.” Many local services are named things like “Community Services,” “Council on Aging” or similar names. Searching under “community” can lead you to a helpful place you didn’t know existed.
  • Call a local shelter. Even if you don’t need a place to stay, a local shelter is going to have tons of information about where you can go for specific kinds of help. Their goal is to prevent you from having to come stay with them, so they are more than willing to share information that can help you immediately.

Understandably, you may not want to give your name when seeking help from shelters or safe houses. Some organizations may honor this, while others will need to get your name and number so someone can contact you when services become available. In almost all cases, they will protect your anonymity in order to keep you safe.

You can do this, solo parents. You can get out from behind the eight ball and get on with your lives. We hope these tips help you get ahead quickly and safely.

About author

Kathy Foust

Kathy Foust is a single mom, freelance writer and editor. Once upon a time--15 years ago-- she was a resident of a battered woman's shelter, working her way up, using available resources for survival. Thanks to hard work, grants, and scholarships, she now holds an M.Ed. and works from her (paid-off) home, which sits on 4 acres in the countryside.

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