The Child Tax Credit offers a valuable and unexpected financial boost for parents, but it probably doesn’t cover all your family’s financial needs. If your monthly budget just isn’t enough—because of the pandemic, a job loss, or any other reason—there are programs out there to assist with food, child care, healthcare, and even supplies like clothes and toys. But it can take a little work to find them.
Here are some suggestions for where to begin your search for financial help for families. A big disclaimer: Many of the programs vary by state, and there may be even more funding available for your specific state or county—you just need to track it down.
Food programs offering support
The largest and most well-known federal food assistance program is SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP provides monthly benefits on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card (similar to a debit card) to buy fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, and more. To qualify for SNAP benefits, you must meet certain income requirements, and depending on your state you may be asked other qualifying questions, like how much money you have in the bank.
Similar to SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, is a benefits program specifically for pregnant, breastfeeding, or new mothers and young children (under 5 years old). There are several ways to qualify based on income and nutrition needs, and qualifications vary by state—check out the prescreening tool before you apply.
For children specifically, there are quite a few programs to help get school-age kids free, nutritious food through the USDA. The Meals for Kids program provides take-home meals through local schools. Traditionally, kids had to eat the meals in the school lunchroom, but because of the pandemic, parents can pick up food for their children and bring it home. Check to see if the program is going on through your public schools.
If not, the USDA has a bunch of programs for kids to get nutritious food at low or no cost, like the Summer Food Service Program, National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program, and more. Qualifications vary by state, but a simple search online and a call to your local agency can help you get enrolled.
For covering child care needs
When schools and day cares shut down in 2020, a lot of families almost instantly lost access to quality child care. And with so many parents’ jobs also in limbo, the cost of child care has become a bigger financial hurdle. According to Care.com, 85% of parents said they spend 10% or more of their household income on child care, and 59% planned to spend more than $10,000 on child care in 2021.Disclosure 1 That’s a big expense that the upcoming Child Tax Credit (and 2020’s Child Tax Credits) may only cover a portion of it.
Fortunately, there are child care options for families who need a little financial help. Look into child care subsidies for your state, which are federal funds that states give to eligible families to help pay for care. Head Start, Early Head Start, and state-funded prekindergarten are three more programs that are available to families based on income and other qualifications, like if your child receives public assistance such as Social Security Income. The best place to learn more about these programs and other state-specific programs is through your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency.
Outside of government programs, there are more traditional ways to cut costs. First, ask your employer if they allow employees to set aside a portion of their paycheck pretax for dependent care, or if they have relationships with local child care providers that offer discounts. Second, programs like the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and some faith-based organizations will offer discounts to those who demonstrate need. You’ll never know unless you ask.
Where to look for clothes, toys, and school supplies
Parents know that a child’s interests and clothing sizes change fast—it may seem like there’s always a new toy, game, or outfit your kid needs. But you can be savvy about getting new supplies.
There are a few avenues to get free toys—like signing up to be a toy tester, or emailing toy manufacturers directly—but that can take legwork and time. Your best bet is to peruse for toys on sites like Freecycle, Letgo, or your local Facebook Marketplace. Parents are often eager to get rid of toys, books, and clothes in an effort to declutter. Sometimes, they’ll offer entire bundles for well below what the items originally cost.
For little kids, check to see if the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is available in your area—you get a book per month for free until age 5. That’s 60 books if you enroll at birth!
As the school year approaches, look into free or low-cost school supplies. United Way, the Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Clubs, along with other local nonprofits often provide school supplies to families who demonstrate need. And if you try searching online for “[your county] [state] + free school supplies,” you’ll likely get some more ideas for where to look and who to reach out to. Local news channels are often a good resource for school supply drives, too—they drum up donations and may have contacts that can help you.
For covering healthcare needs
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 5.1% of children don’t have healthcare coverage.Disclosure 2 Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s imperative to have reliable, quality healthcare. For kids, the national program for low-cost healthcare is CHIP, or Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP is available for families who may earn too much money for Medicaid, but still need a low-cost healthcare option. You can apply at any time, and as with many government programs, eligibility varies by state.
If you have coverage but are in search of affordable specialized services like physical therapy or speech therapy, Early Intervention can help you address these needs for children under three years old. Early Intervention is available in every state, and you don’t need a doctor’s referral to set up appointments. For children above three years old, you can reach out to your local public school and request an evaluation. Based on that, your child may qualify for free preschool to help them catch up to their peers.
No matter your situation, if you need help paying for essentials like food, child care, supplies, and healthcare, there are many resources out there giving financial help to families. Finding the right local programs for your family can take persistence and time—but they can make a real difference.