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How government programs can help your kids

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Government assistance isn't a dirty phrase

If there's one thing I could communicate to Middle America as a social worker, it's that government assistance is not a dirty phrase.

America is not a welfare state, and it's in no danger of becoming one. The vast majority of "welfare spending" is for entitlements for the elderly and disabled, like Medicare and Social Security. Government assistance for families and children is a tiny percent of our nation's GDP, and many of these benefits are in place to provide assistance for a Middle America that tends to shun them.

Unfortunately, most people tend to think of government assistance as welfare checks or food stamps. This is simply not true. Although I could turn this article into a dissertation-length explanation of the thousands of government assistance programs that exist, I want to highlight just four government programs that may benefit your middle-class family. Just remember that most of these programs vary by state, so call 211 for local referrals.

Child Care & Development Fund. Child care eats away at the budgets of many families, but these same families usually can't afford for one parent to stay at home to watch the kids. Single moms, in particular, may benefit from government-subsidized childcare so that they can actually afford to work. If you enroll in your state's child care assistance program, you can expect to pay a weekly co-pay for child care, while your state foots a portion or majority of the bill. Another benefit? The only child care centers that can accept payment are those that are evaluated by the state to provide quality early education.

Women, Infants & Children. The government wants pregnant women and children under the age of 5 to eat healthy foods. Why? It costs the state less in the long run if people choose foods that make them healthy. Sign up for Women, Infants & Children (WIC) to receive free or reduced-cost fruits, veggies, milk and cheese. The agency also helps with hospital-grade breast pump rentals to support breastfeeding moms.

Social Security Disability. Many children are born with disabilities or developmental delays, which can create an enormous cost burden for families (particularly if one parent has to quit work to care for the child). Your child may qualify for a monthly check through Social Security Disability to help support your family, and his or her enrollment will also guarantee that your family can reduce medical costs through a secondary enrollment in Medicaid. In my state of Texas, one of the coolest benefits of Medicaid is a tertiary enrollment in the Medicaid transportation program, which allows parents to reimburse the enormous costs of commuting back and forth to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or medical appointments. These benefits aren't based on income.

Early Childhood Intervention. If your child has a disability or developmental delay, you're likely aware that you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on early interventions. Early Childhood Intervention exists to remove this cost burden and to deliver physical, speech and behavior therapy to your doorstep. Sign up for trained therapists and social workers to visit you in your home from your child's birth to third birthday in order to mitigate costs and time burden.

These programs are just a sampling of the many interventions that are available to the average American family. Reach out to 211 or a community social worker to find out more.

More about programs for kids

Secrets to parenting a child with developmental delays
What is a play-based approach to preschool?
Sensory Processing Disorder help: What is a sensory diet?

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