Ultimate Guide to Programs for Working Parents

Several federal programs can provide financial assistance to parents who are trying to balance a career while raising children. See more parenting pictures.

By many standards, being a parent is considered a full-time job. The problem is, many parents already have a full-time job that they need to keep in order to pay the bills, and that means they'll likely need some help when it comes to raising their kids. That's why federal programs have been developed to help with everything from providing your kids with health insurance to making sure they receive quality child care. All you have to do is find out whether you're eligible and apply for the aid.

These programs cover various aspects of raising children. For example, not everyone has a family member who can watch their children while they're at work, often leaving them to have to pay for child care, which doesn't come cheap. But it's not all bad news. The federal Child Care and Development Fund offers subsidies to ease the financial burden of child care [source: U.S. Department of Education]. You might actually be able to write off some of the cost of raising your kids.


There are also several other programs that have been developed to help working parents. They include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, which replaced several previous welfare programs in 1996. Health care programs include Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Beyond that, you may even be eligible for public housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The point is, you don't have to do it alone -- you just have to ask for help. A simple tax credit could be worth several thousand dollars.

Keep reading to find out more about the CCDF, tax credits and whether you might be eligible for federal assistance.


Child Care Programs for Working Parents

Child care can be expensive, and if your family is considered low-income, it may not seem like a possibility. However, with government assistance, it often can be. The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is a federal program created to help low-income families pay for child care so that parents can work or go to school to train for a job. In 2009, the fund provided $7 billion in subsidies to families all over the United States [source: ACF: Fact].

To be eligible for a CCDF subsidy, parents must meet certain requirements, and depending on the state or territory they live in, the child care provider they choose may be required to meet certain health and safety standards. Currently, 29 states or territories issue certificates that can be used at any legally operating child care facility, and the rest require child care providers to be approved ahead of time [source: ACF: Services].


In 2008, more than 1.6 million children from more than 900,000 U.S. families were estimated to have received help from CCDF subsidies. To find out whether you're eligible for a subsidy, get in contact with the CCDF office in your state. You can find a list of those offices on the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center Web [source: NCCIC].

If you aren't eligible for CCDF, you may still be eligible for a tax credit. Keep reading to find out more.


Tax Credits for Working Parents

If you have a child and you work or are looking for work, you may be eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit when you do your taxes. This credit can help to defray the cost of child care for working parents. To maximize your credit, you'll need to know the requirements for claiming it and what expenses you're legally allowed to write off.

In order to be eligible for the tax credit, you must have earned income and pay for child care out of your own pocket. The person you pay for child care can't be your spouse or someone you claim as a dependent, and if you're married, you must both work or be looking for work [source: 1040]. If that sounds like you, the next step is to determine which of your expenses qualify as child care expenses.


The Child and Dependent Care Credit covers everything from housekeeping expenses to educational costs as long as they are related to the care of a child. You can write off the cost of babysitting in addition to the cost of nursery school. If you're a working parent with a lower income, the odds are good that you'll qualify for at least a partial credit. The maximum you can claim is $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more, and the amount you do claim cannot exceed your total income for the year.

As a parent, you may also be eligible for a child tax credit. If your children are under the age of 17, live with you more than half the year and don't provide more than half of their own monetary support, you can get a $1,000 tax credit per child. In some cases, you may even be able to get a refund if your tax credit is more than what you owe [source: Turbo Tax].

Aside from tax credits, working parents may also be eligible for financial assistance. Keep reading to find out what your options are.


Financial Assistance for Working Parents

Aside from subsidies from the CCDF and tax credits, low-income parents may also qualify to receive other forms of financial assistance from the federal government. In the event that parents are unable to provide their children with basic needs such as a roof over their heads, food to eat and proper health care, there are programs that can help.

Welfare reform over the past few decades has changed greatly. In 1996, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program replaced all of the existing welfare programs. Its main purpose is to ensure that low-income families can take care of their kids in their own home [source: ACF: About TANF]. The application process for TANF differs from state to state so you'll need to contact the proper state office to find out whether you are eligible.


Depending on your level of income, you may also qualify to live in public housing. The public housing program is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and it provides low-income families with safe and affordable places to live. To apply for public housing, you'll need to contact your local Public Housing Agency. You can find this information at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Web site [source: HUD].

Another huge expense when it comes to raising kids is health care. That's why programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance program, or CHIP, exist. Both programs were developed to help low-income families afford health insurance. Medicaid is for those families living below the federal poverty level, and CHIP is for families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still can't afford to get their kids health insurance. Both programs are run at the state level. To find out more about what is available in your state, visit the Insure Kids Now Web site [source: Insure Kids Now].

For even more information on financial assistance, tax credits and child care subsidies, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • 1040.com. "Child and Dependent Care Credit." 2009. (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.1040.com/site/FederalTaxes/TaxCredits/ChildDependentCare/tabid/71/Default.aspx
  • Administration for Children and Families. "About TANF." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. November 20, 2008. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/tanf/about.html
  • Administration for Children and Families. "Child Care and Development Fund Fact Sheet." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. November 2009. (Accessed 1/5/2009)http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ccb/ccdf/factsheet.htm
  • Administration for Children and Families. "Child Care Services Offered." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/stateplan2008-09/part3.pdf
  • Administration for Children and Families. "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/data-reports/annualreport8/chapter09/chap09.htm
  • Cotter, Anne and Chutima Ganthavorn. "Child Care and Working Parents." University of California Cooperative Extension. 2001. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://www.danrpeoplelinks.ucr.edu/nb3/lib/ls_1_4.pdf
  • Fritze, John. "Average family health insurance policy: $13,375, up 5%." USA Today. September 16, 2009. (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/2009-09-15-insurance-costs_N.htm
  • Insure Kids Now. "Connecting Kids to Coverage." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/index.html
  • Moyer, Liz. "The Most Expensive Preschools." Forbes. September 9, 2007. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://www.forbes.com/2007/09/18/education-preschool-kindergarden-biz-cx_lm_0919preschool.html
  • National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center. "Child Care and Development Fund Contacts." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://nccic.acf.hhs.gov/statedata/dirs/display.cfm?title=ccdf
  • Turbo Tax. "Child Tax Credit." 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/family/5400.html
  • U.S. Department of Education. "Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)." May 7, 2009. (Accessed 12/27/2009)http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oii/nonpublic/childcare.html
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "PHA Contact Information." (Accessed 12/27/09)http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/pha/contacts/index.cfm