More and more Americans are pinching pennies to stay afloat. Wages are stagnant, and costs are creeping up relentlessly, so it gets harder and harder to make ends meet. It’s one thing to cut back on disposable luxuries; it’s another thing entirely to sacrifice nutrition for other, more “necessary” expenses like rent or healthcare. If your budget is causing you and your family to go hungry, it’s time to look for help.
The US Government runs programs that help low-income Americans afford food. If you need help putting food on the table, here are a few programs worth further examination. Links to programs discussed here are at the end of the article!
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP is the largest agency within the domestic hunger safety net, offering nutritional assistance to millions of Americans. They provide financial help to low-income individuals, families, and communities. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works alongside SNAP with neighborhoods, faith-based organizations, nutrition educators, and State agencies to make this program work. SNAP and the FNS work together to give potential beneficiaries the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about accessing benefits and applying for the program.
The FNS seeks not only to improve SNAP’s administration but to ensure the program’s integrity by working with the retail community and other State partners.
SNAP Eligibility Requirements
Eligibility requirements consider five major factors:
Special Rules for Elderly or Disabled
This list may change after September 30, 2017, however, depending on potential changes in governmental funding.
It’s important to understand that determining SNAP eligibility is a complicated task, and an entire article could be written on this topic alone. That’s why you’d be wise to use the SNAP online pre-screening tool to get a solid idea of where you stand. It’s the fastest and most accurate way to know if you qualify for benefits. That said, it would still be nice to have an idea what the process entails! Rather than leave you shuffling through countless government websites, we will provide a summary breakdown of the actual SNAP qualification procedure.
Households must pass resource and income tests to receive eligibility for SNAP. Under federal rules, your household income and resources must meet three requirements to qualify for SNAP benefits.
Gross Monthly Income – Your household’s income before the application of program deductions (Typically must be 130% of the poverty line, or lower)
Net Income – Your household’s income after the application of program deductions (Typically must be 130% of the poverty line, or lower)
Assets – Your household’s assets must fit within certain parameters: $2,250 or less for households without disabled or elderly members, and $3,250 for those with such members
These requirements may seem strict, but over 40 million Americans are receiving SNAP benefits, and if your finances are stressed enough to give you problems with buying food, there’s a good chance that you’ll qualify.
If you are deemed eligible, and you’re certified to get SNAP benefits, you’ll receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. A member of SNAP will explain everything you need to know about how to use this card. You’ll also receive a personal identification number (PIN). Keep your PIN safe, or somebody else could start using your benefits.
When you need to shop, all you have to do is take your EBT card to the grocery store, pick out your items, and use your card at the checkout. Your card will transfer the allotted benefit amount from a federal account to your retailer to pay for your purchases. It’s not a free-for-all, though. First, you get a limited amount of benefit funds, based partly on your income level and household size. What’s more, you can only use your SNAP benefits to get food, or plants and seeds that enable you to grow your food. You cannot use your benefits to buy:
Hot meals, or foods that you can eat at the store
Medicines or vitamins
Nonfood items, such as household supplies or toiletries/cosmetics
As with most government programs, you need to follow the rules to the letter. Violations could cause a loss of benefits at best, prosecution for fraud at worst.
You need to contact your local SNAP office to apply for coverage, or for general information queries.
SNAP Three-Month Time Limit
As of 2016, a 1996 provision in welfare reform law was reintroduced, limiting the eligibility period for SNAP recipients. This legislation limits anybody aged 19-50 to only three months of SNAP benefits within a general three-year period unless they are either working full-time or participate in a work or training program for at least 20 hours per week.
Certain people are exempt from this requirement, however. If you are a pregnant woman, have been deemed physically or mentally unfit for work, or you live with children, this 3-month limit might not apply. The only way to know for sure is to contact your local SNAP office.