SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a federally funded program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that helps individuals and families who are lower income put food on the table.
This program is used by over nine million families across the United States and is the largest program to help feed Americans. People who are lower income utilize SNAP benefits to help stretch their budget and allow them to use their hard-earned money to pay for other obligations, such as medical bills, rent, utility payments, and more.
Hunger is a national crisis and is often hidden through the stigma that surrounds it. SNAP helps vulnerable people as many of the people who receive the funds are seniors, children, and people living with disabilities. Many people struggle to put food on the table and SNAP is available to help temporarily or for longer periods if needed.
People who participate in SNAP can use the funds to purchase foods for their household such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, snacks, beverages, and even seeds and plants to grow food in a garden.
SNAP benefits are limited to only food purchases or purchases that provide nutrition. There are limits and you cannot use the funds to purchase cigarettes, paper products, alcohol, medicines, vitamins, pet supplies, hygiene products, and baby formula and diapers.
Some restaurants depending on the nutritional value will accept SNAP benefits to help feed needy families although most prepared and to-go foods are not eligible. With the advent of Covid many more applicants than ever have applied and successfully begun to receive benefits.
SNAP Eligibility Requirements
SNAP is available to anyone who may need it: seniors, families, people living with disabilities, if you are employed or unemployed, are a veteran or active duty. It is a benefit meant to help whomever in America needs food. The requirements may include:
- Income of a household must be at or below a certain threshold.
- Bank accounts or assets may need to meet certain limits.
- Any member of a household must be a U.S. citizen or eligible immigrant, even if they are not the person appyling.
If any member of a household is receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or any eligible general assistance, then that household may be automatically eligible for SNAP benefits. If you are unsure whether you qualify, many state websites have an eligibility quiz you can take to make sure.
Assets are any resources in a household that can be used to purchase food. Items that are not accessible are assets such as your home, personal property, cars, and retirement savings.
There are work requirements in order to be eligible for SNAP benefits. These work requirements include:
- Actively registering and applying for work.
- If a person is offered a job, they are not declining.
- If a member of the household is participating in a job training program offered by the state.
- And not voluntarily reducing hours or quitting a job.
If any of these requirements apply to any member of a household at any time during SNAP benefits, the household may be disqualified and benefits may cease. Children, seniors, pregnant women, and people who are not able to work with physical or mental disabilities are exempt from this requirement.
A household is determined by anyone who purchases and prepares food together and is determined as one household. A spouse and children up to age 22 also count as one household even if the food is not purchased or prepared together.
The eligible requirements for SNAP are different for every state so people who would like to apply will need to check with their local SNAP office or foodbank for the exact eligibility criteria in the area.
How to Apply for Benefits
Every state has a different application process, and an application can be submitted for SNAP benefits online, by mail, or over the phone due to the pandemic. Many offices may allow in person applications.
After an application is submitted, it can take up to 30 days for the process to complete and an interview with the local SNAP office, usually over the phone, is required to complete the application process. Once a person is deemed eligible for SNAP, the program will provide backdated benefits from the initial date of the submission of the application.
There are certain requirements, such as emergency needs due to a household only having less than $100 in assets, $150 in monthly income, or if the income and assets combined are less than what is needed to pay for rent and utilities, people may qualify to receive their benefits within 7 days.
There are many food banks that can help with applications for SNAP benefits. These food bank representatives can also connect people with other helpful programs including assistance for energy and utility bills, Medicaid enrollment, WIC, unemployment insurance, and more.
Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Cards
SNAP benefits are sent to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)card that is sent out once approved. The card works just like a credit card, and there is a resource availalbe through the FreshEBT app to track the balance and even find coupons to help lower the costs of groceries allowing each home to afford more. The card can be used at local grocery stores, farmers markets, and some online grocery retailers like Amazon.
Participants receive the EBT card through the state agencies and come preloaded with the approved amount. The card is built to only allow SNAP eligible foods to be purchased and will not work on any other items. Each month the card is reloaded with the predetermined amount that a household is eligible for monthly.
How Long Will I Receive SNAP Benefits?
Each case is different and when approved for SNAP benefits, each person will receive information on their certification period, or the amount of time they will be receiving benefits. Once the time is ending, they will receive a letter to inform them that they can reapply and to check if they are eligible to continue to receive the SNAP benefits.