My newspaper column for Tuesday’s edition of The Monroe Evening News will discuss the complications that parents of split families may run into when they apply for financial assistance. Here’s why: the expectation that many programs and resources have is that attempts will be made first to collect child support from the other parent.

As a result, the suggestion I offer to single or divorced parents is to expand their search for help to include resources that are first-come, first-served; or based on special circumstances; rather than rely solely on household income.

Here’s why: It doesn’t really matter where the help comes from when you just want the bills paid. That’s a lesson I learned years ago as a single / divorced mom.

Now as an introduction (or backgrounder) to my newspaper column, depending on when you see it, here is an extended discussion on the practical details:

Be realistic on expenses

If there is only one income, or limited resources, coming into the family, you can’t possibly live what most people would consider to be a middle class lifestyle. It might take incredible resourcefulness just to pay the bills.

That being said, there is a lot you can do on your own to make every dollar count. Some of the concepts I teach now about getting by on a tight budget were lessons I learned during my single mother days; and I’ve picked up a lot of great ideas since that time.

Go to my Downsized Budget section where you’ll find a huge collection of frugal hacks and money-saving steps, organized by household budget category.

Don’t ignore income-based programs

Be sure to look into income-based resources and services such as the school lunch program. You might be eligible for help in a direction you didn’t expect, as the household income brackets do vary from one program to the next. Take a look at the “How broke is broke?” income charts I’ve compiled for various programs, and you’ll see what I mean.

If unpaid child support means you are eligible for a program, but receiving child support would cut you off, ask the agency how they would handle your case. As I’ll explain tomorrow, there are vastly differing interpretations on that situation. Do remember that a local or state authority tracks child support payments in hopes the past due amount will be payable someday.

Where else can you seek help?

One possible resource involves work-based benefits that may be available to one or both parents, or perhaps a stepparent, that can be used on behalf of the child or entire family. This can go way beyond the health insurance that would be part of a typical full-time benefits package.

The best-known employee perk in southeast Michigan are the “friends and family” discounts offered by the automakers for vehicle purchases. Other examples I’ve heard of include free tickets to entertainment events, discounted cell phone service, and discounted purchases from a company’s product line. Ask your human resources department or union representative for the list of available discounts or perks, and see what you can do with them.

Military benefits in particular are a wonderful resource if you or the child qualifies for a military ID card. Here’s why: in recent years, the Department of Defense has been contracting with a lot of online and civilian agencies in order to provide services to Guard and Reserve families across the country. Poke around the information packets you have received from the unit or family support group, and see what resources you can make use of.

Is someone in the family a college student? There aren’t many college discounts at brick and mortar retailers in the Monroe area, but you may find them in other nearby towns and a college ID is a college ID. Therefore, make sure you have an .edu email account and a valid college ID to snag those deals when you find them.

Also if you are a college student, be sure to meet all the deadlines for financial aid and scholarships. Did you know some scholarships that are available to Monroe County residents are meant for returning adults or heads of household?

Are you old enough for senior discounts and services such as free checking or discounted entertainment tickets? Don’t laugh! Some of them start at age 50, and many people are still in the parenting demographic at that point. If you are raising another relative’s child, look up the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren services.

There also are several programs and resources operating in Monroe County intended to help the needy, but really are first-come, first served. They include the occasional personal care product, grocery and clothing giveaways hosted by area churches. The God Works! Family Soup Kitchen network is a “no questions asked” program, and the community coupon swap boxes at the area libraries are available to anyone.

And on occasion, there have been “single mom days” hosted by area churches as a community service.

How do you get started?

Go to my section called Do you need assistance? That’s where I discuss the details of where to find resources that fit your circumstances, what to expect as you look research the social safety network, and the paperwork you’ll need in order to apply for need-based or merit-based programs.

 

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