Free food with SNAP

What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?

Although government food assistance programs are often treated as a new topic, there has been some type of nutritional help in place for individuals and families since 1939 when the first program was implemented in New York. By 1961, the Food Stamp Act was put into effect, and this made it possible for people all over the nation to benefit from reduced costs for food. When the Farm Bill came into effect in 2008, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) replaced the earlier one for ensuring that low-income people have access to nutritious food. Today, technology has even changed how this assistance is received. Those who are eligible for the program now receive debit cards instead of stamps that can be used at participating retailers. The program has also been expanded to serve more people, and approximately 46 million low-income people were served a month in 2012.

Determining Eligibility

Applicants must fit within strict guidelines for eligibility before being able to participate in the program. These guidelines may involve assessing a person’s income, household size, employment, immigration status as well as their financial resources. Since the program was first implemented, adjustments have been made to accommodate for changes in inflation and financial need, yet the following information provides a sense of the current ones that are in effect.

General Allowances For Resources

For the average household to be eligible, they must not exceed 130% of the amount designated for being considered the threshold for poverty-level income. This means that the general family of four would not be allowed to exceed $2628 a month in gross income to receive SNAP benefits. For a two-person household, the gross monthly income allowed would be lower at $1726. It is important to note that the monthly income counted includes Social Security as well as that which one obtains from employment. Depending upon the regulations in the state that an applicant resides, their vehicle may or may not be counted as a source of potential income. There are types of income that are not allowed to be counted, and these include a person’s house, TANF and most retirement plans.

Types of Deductions Allowed

SNAP guidelines allow for certain deductions to be counted with assessing an applicant’s eligibility. Currently, the standard deduction is $155 for households with one to three members and $168 for a household count of four. Families who have child support, dependent care or medical expenses over $35 for people over the age of 60 can also add these to their deductions. In some states, applicants can also deduct for the cost of their shelter if it is extremely high or they are homeless.

Employment Requirements

In most instances, a person is required to register to work to stay on the program. However, certain exceptions apply. For example, people who are pregnant, seniors or underage are excluded from this stipulation. Those with mental or physical disabilities may also be excluded. For the rest of applicants, it is necessary to be participating in a work program for at least 20 hours a week to be eligible to receive benefits for more than three months during a three-year period.

Application Process

Those who believe they are eligible for food assistance may apply online through their state’s website, or they may visit the office in their state to complete a paper application. If there is a specific hardship such as a language barrier or disability, it is possible to get assistance with filling out the application. It is also possible for a person to designate an authorized representative to attend appointments on their behalf if they are unable to physically get to the state office. During the application process, a person will have to provide proof of any claims they make regarding their income, household size and employment status.

Using SNAP

Once a person has been declared eligible, they receive a set amount of benefits on their debit card each month that can be used to buy groceries. Fruit, vegetables, canned goods and meat are all allowed to be purchased with SNAP. Certain luxury items such as chips and candy can also be bought. It is important to note that SNAP may not be used to buy cigarettes, alcohol or other non-food items such as diapers. SNAP may be used at any participating retailer that sells groceries, including certain Farmer’s Markets that offer deals such as two-for-one pricing to encourage healthier eating for those who use the program.

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