Food Assistance programs in the United States of America date back to 1939, originally starting with a program called FSP, which debuted in New York. In 1961, the Food Stamp Act began distributing food assistance on a more widespread, national basis.
In 2008, with the Farm Bill, the program was renamed to SNAP. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides food resources for low-income people. SNAP now arrives in the form of a debit card, for use at any SNAP-supported retailer. In 2012, SNAP served 46 million low income people monthly.
To qualify for SNAP benefits, there are certain factors that the government looks at, including: resources, income, deductions, employment, age, and immigration status.
In general, a household must not exceed 130% of the poverty level gross income. For example, a family of four may not gross more than $2628 monthly and still qualify for SNAP, while a 2 person household may not exceed $1726 monthly gross income, which includes Social Security income as well as any income from employment. Vehicles may or may not be counted, depending on the State regulations. Sources that are not counted as income are house and lot, TANF, most retirement plans, and SSI.
Certain deductions are allowable under SNAP rules. There is a standard deduction of $155 for households of 1 to 3 people and $168 for a household size of 4. Dependent care, child support, and medical expenses over $35 for people over 60 can also be deducted. In addition, some states allow an additional deduction for shelter, if the applicant is homeless or has excessively high shelter costs.
Commonly, there are work requirements for SNAP applicants. Excluding children, seniors, pregnant women, or people who have physical or mental health problems, applicants are required to register for work, continue with current employment, take an offered job, or participate in employment or training programs. Additionally, able bodied adults without dependents must participate in a work program for at least 20 hours weekly to continue to receive benefits for more than 3 months in a 36 month period.
There are certain exceptions for the elderly or disabled. An elderly person is a person 60 years of age or older, while the definition for a disabled person is more broad. A person is considered disabled if they: receive federal disability or blindness payments, receive disability retirement benefits from a government agency and qualify for Medicare, receive an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act, are a veteran who is totally disabled, permanently housebound or in need of regular aid or assistance, or the spouse of such a person. Also, legal immigrants who have been in the country for more than 5 years, have children under 16, or qualify for disability may also be eligible for SNAP.
How to Apply:
To apply for SNAP benefits, visit a local State or county office or complete the application online at the State agency’s website. State or county offices can be found online or in the phone book. If a person is not able to visit the office or use the website, an authorized representative can apply instead, as long as they are designated as such in writing. A household must apply, have an in-person interview, and provide proof of certain things, such as income.
After a person is awarded benefits, they will receive an EBT debit card onto which benefits are loaded monthly. To use, the person takes the card to an eligible store and uses the card as a debit card; Eligible purchases are deducted from the amount on the card. The balance of the card can be checked online or by phone.
What can SNAP buy?
Products that a SNAP user can buy include: breads, cereals, fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, dairy, seeds and plant items that produces food. Although controversial in recent years, soda, snack foods, and candy are allowable purchases, as are “luxury” items such as steak, seafood, and prepared bakery items. Non-acceptable purchases include: tobacco products, alcohol, paper items, pet food or litter, personal hygiene products, vitamins, medicines, hot foods, or food to be eaten in the store.
Where can SNAP be used?
There are more than 250,000 SNAP eligible stores in the United States. To be SNAP eligible, a business must sell food for home preparation and consumption, with items such as: meat, poultry, fish, bread, cereal, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. Additionally, a store might qualify if more than half of the sales from that store are eligible food products. Increasingly, Farmer’s Markets are accepting SNAP and also offering incentives to people using EBT at Farmer’s Markets. For example, Eastern Market in Detroit offers an extra $10 in spending power to people on SNAP. Other markets might offer two for one pricing on some produce for SNAP members, encouraging them to buy healthy foods.