SNAP Benefits Program Helps Millions of Low-Income Families
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) used to be known as Food Stamp Benefits. The name has been changed to reflect the purpose of the program, aiding those who can't afford to buy enough food to maintain good nutrition. Low-income Americans can take advantage of SNAP to help meet their nutritional needs, reducing hunger and leading to better health. Although the program has some limitations, it provides economic and health benefits to many Americans.
Who is eligible for SNAP?
Benefits are based on income, and recipients are those whose income doesn't exceed more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). There are some deductions that can be claimed against the income, however, like medical care and excessive costs for rent and utilities. People who receive SNAP benefits also can't own more than a determined amount of assets, including vehicles and cash. A person's home and any public assistance they receive are exempt from this calculation.
Benefits can vary between states, so each person will need to meet with a caseworker to find out the specifics of their eligibility. There are online screening tools to help people get started, and they can also call or visit a screening center.
Are SNAP benefits available for everyone?
All eligible households will receive SNAP without regard to race, sex, religious belief, national origin or political beliefs. Sometimes there are work requirements, or a person might have to enroll in a work-training program. Non-citizens aren't eligible for benefits, with the exception of children or some people who have disabilities. College students without dependents generally are not eligible for SNAP.
Is there a maximum SNAP benefit per household?
Benefits are determined by the number of people in the household, with the maximum monthly benefit for one person set at $192 and the maximum for a family of five set at $760 through September 30, 2018. The amount of SNAP benefits available are based on the family's income and assets, as well as the shortfall between what they can afford and how much money is needed to buy enough food to feed the family.
What kinds of grocery store items can be purchased with SNAP?
SNAP is designated for the purpose of purchasing nutritious food. This primarily includes:
• Breads and cereals
• Meat, fish, and poultry
• Dairy products
• Fruits and vegetables
However, seeds and plants that produce food are also acceptable SNAP purchases. Although not recommended, soft drinks, cookies, candy and ice cream can also be bought using SNAP. Since the program is focused on supplemental nutrition, buying items considered to be junk food is discouraged. Food supplements like protein powder and some energy drinks are not eligible for purchase with SNAP.
Ready-to-eat items like TV dinners are not on the list of approved purchases since their nutritional value is low. Hot meals aren't approved either, except in some trial programs. In these, elderly, disabled and homeless SNAP recipients are approved to purchase low-cost restaurant meals.
Since SNAP is designated to be used for food, the following items are not approved for purchase:
• Pet food
• Paper products
• Household supplies
• Beer, wine, and liquor
• Any tobacco products
• Vitamins and medicines
• Food to be eaten in the store
How are SNAP benefits spent?
SNAP users are given a plastic card like a debit or credit card, and funds are added to the card each month. It's not readily noticeable when a person uses SNAP benefits at the cash register since the card looks like many other debit cards. Sometimes SNAP cards are referred to as 'EBT', or Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, as when a grocery store advertises that they accept EBT. Users can check their balance by phone or online.
What is the process to apply for SNAP?
Each state has its own application form and requirements, so the first step is to visit the SNAP website for the state of residence. An application can be completed online or, in some cases, by visiting the local SNAP office. Each state has a toll-free SNAP phone number to call for more information. Before getting started, it's helpful to gather proof of income, bank statements and a record of housing costs.