Food Stamps – How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the biggest food assistance program run by the federal government. One must apply for SNAP in the state where they presently reside. 

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Each state has its application form and process. A member of the family must contact the state agency directly to apply. Learn more about the SNAP benefits and application process below.

  • What is SNAP?
  • Who Can Avail of the SNAP Benefits?
  • How Can People Apply for SNAP?
  • What are the Financial Benefits of SNAP?
  • How Does SNAP Protect Families from Hunger?
  • How Does SNAP Support Healthy Eating?

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

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What is SNAP?

Low-income people and families qualify for SNAP benefits on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. This card can be used in authorized retail food stores like a debit card to buy eligible food.

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

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SNAP helps low-income working families get enough food to eat. It also helps low-income older adults (60 and older) and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, as well as other low-income individuals and households.

About two-thirds of SNAP participants live in families with children, and more than one-third live with older adults or people with disabilities. After unemployment insurance, SNAP is the federal program that helps people the most during and after times when the economy is bad.

Where is SNAP Offered?

The federal government pays for the full cost of SNAP benefits and shares the cost of running the program with the states. SNAP works in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, but not in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. 

Even though these three territories have higher poverty rates than the rest of the U.S., they are not eligible for SNAP. Instead, they get limited block grants for food assistance.

Who Can Avail of the SNAP Benefits?

SNAP is available to a wide range of low-income households, while most means-tested benefit programs are only for certain types of low-income people. SNAP eligibility rules and benefit levels are mostly set at the federal level and are the same across the country.

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

However, states can change some things, like the value of a car a household can own and still get benefits if they want to. Under federal rules, a household must meet three requirements to qualify for SNAP benefits.

First, in general, its gross monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, which for a three-person household in the fiscal year 2022 is $2,379 a month, or about $28,550 a year. This limit does not have to be met by homes where at least one person is 60 or older or has a disability.

The second is when net monthly income, after housing costs and child care are taken out, must be less than or equal to the poverty line, which is $1,830 a month or about $21,960 a year for a family of three in the fiscal year 2022.

What are the Other Eligibility Requirements for SNAP?

The last requirement must have assets that should be less than certain limits. In the fiscal year 2022, the limits are $2,500 for households without anyone 60 or older or with a disability and $3,750 for families with someone 60 or older or with a disability.

A SNAP household usually comprises people who live together and buy and cook food together. People on strike, some college students, people with drug felony convictions in some states, and people with certain immigration statuses cannot get SNAP benefits, no matter how little money or assets they have.

Most unemployed adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have a disability and do not live with minor children can only get benefits for three months unless they work at least 20 hours a week or participate in a qualifying workfare or job training program. 

How Can People Apply for SNAP?

Following federal rules, each state comes up with its way of applying for SNAP. People can apply for SNAP at their local office or by mail. Nearly all states also have online applications. 

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

Applicants must go through an interview to see if they are eligible, which can often be done over the phone. They must also show proof of their identity, where they live, their immigration status, the number of people in their household, their income and resources, and expenses that can be deducted.

A household that is found to be eligible gets an EBT card loaded with monthly benefits. It can be used to buy food at one of the more than 254,000 stores allowed to participate in the program. They cannot use SNAP to buy alcohol, cigarettes, vitamin supplements, or grocery items that are not food, like cleaning supplies or hot foods.

If a household’s income changes, they must tell the local SNAP office. They also have to reapply for SNAP every so often, usually every six to 12 months for most families and every 12 to 24 months for older people and people with disabilities.

What Happens After Applying for SNAP?

Most of the time, the state agency or local SNAP office will process the application and let them know if they are eligible for benefits within 30 days.

During the 30 days, applicants will have to go through an interview to prove their eligibility and show proof of the information they gave. If they meet the requirements, they may be able to get SNAP benefits as soon as seven days after the date you applied. 

What are the Financial Benefits of SNAP?

In 2021, regular SNAP benefits were worth an estimated $127 per month, or about $4.16 per day per person. Temporary benefits related to the pandemic gave them an extra $92 per month, or $3.01 per day per person, for a total of $218 per person per month.

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

The SNAP benefit formula is set up, so households with the lowest incomes get bigger benefits than households closer to the poverty line. This helps the neediest families buy food. The formula assumes that families will spend 30% of their net income on food. 

SNAP makes up the difference between that amount and the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), a diet plan created by the USDA designed to be nutritionally adequate at a very low cost. Based on a provision in the 2018 farm bill supported by both parties, the USDA changed the TFP in August 2021 to better reflect the cost of a healthy diet.

This meant that the maximum SNAP benefits increased by 21% in October 2021

How Much Money SNAP Beneficiaries Receive? 

A family with no net income gets the maximum benefits, which is equal to the cost of the TFP for a family of that size. For example, a household of three people would get the maximum benefit of $658 per month if they had no income.

 If they had a net monthly income of $600, they would get the maximum benefit ($658) minus 30% of their net income ($180), which is $478.

How Does SNAP Protect Families from Hunger?

Anyone who meets the rules of the SNAP program can get benefits. When the economy is bad, enrollment goes up, but it goes down when the economy gets better, and poverty goes down. 

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

SNAP helps families get through short-term times of unemployment or a family emergency. If a parent loses their job or has a low-paying job, SNAP can help them feed their kids until they can improve their situation.

Studies show that SNAP benefits have made it easier for people in low-income households to get enough food. Research shows that taking part in SNAP can reduce food insecurity by up to 30%. It works even better for children and people with very low food security, a severe form of food insecurity that causes people to eat less and change how they eat.

According to the December Food Security Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS-FSS), food insecurity rose sharply from 11.1% in 2007 to 14.6% in 2008. It peaked in 2011 at 15 percent and has steadily gone down to 10.5 percent, which is 30 percent less than the 2011 peak.

How Does SNAP Support Low-Paid Workers?

SNAP is meant to help low-income workers by adding to their wages and giving security to older people, disabled people, and people who are temporarily out of work.

Millions of people in the U.S. work low-paying jobs with irregular hours and no benefits like paid sick leave. SNAP benefits help fill in the gaps for people with low or inconsistent pay or who do not have a job for a while. Most SNAP people are in service or sales jobs like aides or cashiers, often low-paying and prone to income fluctuations.

How Does SNAP Support Healthy Eating?

SNAP helps low-income families buy more healthy foods and more food overall, especially food that will be cooked or eaten at home. Also, all states offer SNAP participants nutrition education programs to help them choose healthy foods.

Food Stamps - How to Use the SNAP Food Benefits in US

New research shows that SNAP is linked to better health outcomes and lower health care costs. Adults taking part in SNAP have a more positive view of their health. They also miss fewer work days due to illness, go to the doctor’s office less often, and are less likely to feel emotional distress.

Children who get SNAP say they are healthier than their peers who do not get it, and their families are less likely to have to cut back on health care to pay for other things they need. Older people who take part in SNAP are less likely to be put in a nursing home or hospital than older people who do not take part.

How Does SNAP Protect the Country’s Economy?

SNAP benefits are one of the fastest and most effective ways to get money into the economy when the economy is in a recession. People with low incomes usually spend all their money on things they need daily, like a place to live, food, and transportation.

Based on data from 2017, nearly 78% of SNAP benefits are spent within two weeks, and 96% are spent within a month. A 2019 USDA report says that for every dollar in new SNAP benefits, the economy grows by $1.50 when the economy is weak.

Conclusion

Families with low incomes can benefit from SNAP, so everyone has enough to eat. This also helps low-income seniors and people with disabilities on fixed incomes.