Can a Single Parent Get Help with Rent? [SNAP, TANF, CHIP Programs]

Government programs exist, at least in theory, to prevent homelessness. After all, it should be less expensive to give a little help than manage the consequences of eviction. This is all the more important for single parents of children who will also become homeless.

Because it is so hard to get rental assistance through Section 8 and Section 42, single parents should consider the other federal and state aid programs available to single parents. Programs like SNAP, TANF, and CHIP provide nearly immediate relief and will free up family funds for rent. In particular, TANF provides cash payments that can be used for rent.

Section 8 and Section 42 are comprehensive rental assistance programs that provide high levels of aid to low-income single parents. Unfortunately, most areas have waitlists so long that it can take years for a family to get rental assistance. 

Navigating the network of federal benefits can be hard, especially for parents threatened with homelessness. This article highlights the most helpful programs so that single parents can spend more time with their kids and less time researching.

Federal Housing Programs to Help a Single Parent with Rent

Single parents with low income or no income most benefit from the federal housing programs. These include Section 8, Section 42, and public and subsidized housing.

Unfortunately, none of these programs are specifically targeted to single parents. However, they do provide the most assistance because families can stay on the program as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.

These programs all focus on getting people in homes that cost no more than 30 to 50 percent of the household’s income. Read on to determine which program is right for you. Remember, you may want to apply for multiple programs to maximize your chance of getting assistance quickly.

Section 8 Acts as a Voucher Program

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) operates several types of housing assistance programs. The most well-known of the programs is Section 8

Section 8 refers to the HUD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. It provides rental assistance for a portion or all of a low-income person’s rent cost. Unfortunately, most areas have waiting lists, so this is not an immediate solution. 

The government directly pays its portion to the landlord. On average, households end up paying 30 to 40 percent of the rent themselves.

The voucher will cap the number of bedrooms the rental may have, and this figure is based on the household size. Section 8 housing can be hard to work with because of the amount of time-sensitive paperwork required. 

Anyone interested in applying for the program needs to start by contacting their local housing authority. Qualification for Section 8 vouchers are based on the median income for your area. 

Single parents who suspect they will have long-term trouble with housing would do well to go ahead and get on the Section 8 waiting list. In some places, the waitlist can be so long that the department closes the list to new applicants.

Nationwide, the median wait-list time is 1.5 years for a housing voucher. Some less populated places, like South Dakota, do have much shorter lists. The elderly and disabled generally encounter shorter waits as well. 

Once you do get a voucher, it may be challenging to find a home to rent. Many states and cities prohibit the rejection of potential tenants based on a housing voucher as a source of payment. However, many people with vouchers do have trouble finding a rental, legal or not. 

Section 42 Incentivizes Builders to Create Affordable Housing Units

Through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, builders receive a tax credit for allocating affordable units in their building. The remainder of the units may be at or above market value.

Depending on the number of affordable units the building has, qualified tenants can make no more than 50 to 60 percent of the area’s median income. Unlike Section 8, applications are usually handled directly with the building itself. The program is overseen by each state’s housing authority.

Many people gravitate to rentals available through this program because they are often downtown or in other desirable areas. This can open up the children’s access to better schools and the parent’s access to job and public transit opportunities.

Much like Section 8, the amount of rent that the tenant pays is capped at 30 to 40 percent of the household’s income. Find Section 42 units in your area via the HUD website.

Public and Subsidized Housing 

Subsidized and public housing is what most of us think of when we think of government housing assistance. This is actually the least-used program today.

Public housing refers to government-owned units. The goal of HUD is to provide decent and safe housing, but state-run housing can be anything but. 

These types of buildings are solely dedicated to low-income tenants. Unfortunately, they are in short supply, and more are lost each year due to dilapidation

Federal Programs for Food and Other Financial Assistance

Rental assistance programs are often hard to find and even harder to access. Because of this, we recommend looking at a variety of assistance options rather than those limited only to rent assistance. Ideally, increased income or decreased expenses free up more funds for housing.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Provides Cash Payments

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), sometimes called Welfare,  is a federal program that provides support to families with children. The program is run by each state, so each state ultimately determines the details of the running of the program.

One of the goals of TANF is to keep children in their home cared for by family. This program is really targeted to single parents, and even coupled parents, needing financial help.

Unfortunately, monthly TANF payments will not cover a full rent payment in most areas. In 2020, the median TANF payment was $492. 

TANF qualification is based on household income. To apply, follow the application requirements for your state.

To receive TANF, applicants must be unemployed, underemployed, or have very low income. Use the official calculator to determine initial eligibility.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Provides Grocery Assistance

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a program formerly known as food stamps. It provides funds on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. That card can then be used at food retailers. 

While this program does not provide specific rent assistance, it can free up family funds formerly used for groceries. SNAP is a state-run program, so check with your state’s office to pursue an application. 

SNAP offers a comparatively quick turnaround time on requests for aid. Applicants should receive a determination within 30 days. In extreme circumstances, applicants can receive a response within 7 days. 

Program eligibility is based on the federal poverty level and is based on income and household size. A family of one parent and one child can have gross earnings up to $1,868 per month and still qualify. 

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program Offers Utility Aid

Single parents needing assistance with heating or cooling utility bills may qualify for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Unfortunately, this program has finite funding each year. Only about 20 percent of people who qualify receive assistance. 

People who receive SNAP and TANF may be automatically eligible for LIHEAP. Otherwise, the eligibility criteria is available online. Contact your local LIHEAP office for application details.

Children’s Health Insurance Program Reduces Children’s Health Expenses

This last program is a lifesaver, sometimes literally, for many families. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers healthcare costs for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. 

Each state creates its own cost-sharing provisions for CHIP, but federal regulations keep them low. For example, the maximum out-of-pocket cost for a physician visit is $4. Twenty-nine states require no cost-sharing for children. 

Learn whether your children qualify and apply at

Seek or Enforce a Child Support Order

Child support is meant to cover “normal” expenses of raising a child. This includes rent, food, and other needs of the child. 

If no child support order exists for your child, you can easily start one through your state’s child support agency. The cost to open a case is only $20. 

These agencies initiate a child support proceeding and enforce any resulting orders. They are one of the best resources available to single parents. 

Cases are automatically initiated as a matter of public policy when a parent is receiving public assistance like SNAP or TANF. If one parent needs public assistance to feed or house a child, then the state turns to the other parent for partial support. 

As a state agency, the office of Child Support Enforcement has many options available for enforcement. A common remedy is to suspend the obligor’s driver’s license for non-payment. They can also suspend a professional license, intercept a tax return, intercept any gambling winnings, deny a passport, and more.

Final Thoughts

Due to the long waitlists for housing vouchers, public housing, and subsidized housing, parents should act quickly when housing instability becomes apparent. Most of the federal housing programs focus on locating new housing rather than helping people remain where they are.

For assistance remaining in your current rental, government programs like TANF, SNAP, and CHIP can free up family resources. These programs also offer quicker enrollment.

Finally, the pursuit of child support from your child’s other parent can be key to keeping your child safely housed. Do not hesitate to seek this support.