Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as 'SNAP', is a government program that protects millions of impoverished Americans from hunger. Last year alone, over 45 million Americans were protected from starvation and malnourishment as a result of the benefits provided by SNAP. Around a quarter of the benefits from SNAP help individuals who are elderly or disabled and roughly 70 percent of the benefits go toward homes with children. This beneficial program helps protect families during economic struggles by ensuring they still have enough food to eat, even if their income is low. The federal government supplies the money for SNAP benefits. States are responsible for administering the benefits and covering half of the operation costs.

Who Is Eligible to Benefit From SNAP?

Due to their strict eligibility qualifications, the majority of government assistance programs only provide benefits for a small portion of people. However, any low-income family is eligible to receive benefits from SNAP.

The federal government determines the requirements but individual states are allowed to slightly tweak these qualifications. Federally, households are required to meet the following three criteria to be eligible to receive SNAP benefits:

• A household of three must have a monthly income of $2,177 or less (130 percent of the poverty line). Households with an elderly or disabled member are exempt from this rule.
• The residence's net income must be $1,675 or less (at or below the poverty line).
• Assets must be less than $2,250 for the majority of households. This limit is raised to $3,250 for families with a disabled or elderly member

College students, strikers, or undocumented immigrants are not eligible for benefits.

If the applicant is unemployed and has no children, they are only eligible to receive benefits for up to three months. This limit is lifted if the individual is completing job training or working for at least 20 hours per week. If an area can prove they are dealing with unusually high unemployment rates, states can obtain exemptions for this limit.

As a result of the 2008 recession, many states created waivers that allowed unemployed, childless individuals to obtain SNAP benefits beyond the three month limit. However, beginning in 2016, this time will be restricted again in 40 states. This alteration will affect between half a million to 1 million people.

What Does the SNAP Application Entail?

Generally, families can apply at their local welfare office or send in their application by mail, fax, or online. The next step usually involves an interview that collects information on the applicant's income, expenses, citizenship, members of their household, and residency.

If a household completes these steps, they will receive an EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card. The card is loaded with a predetermined amount of benefits each month. EBT cards are accepted at over 261,000 stores - the majority of which are supermarkets - throughout the United states. The benefits cannot be used to purchase cigarettes, nutritional supplements, heated food that has been pre-prepared, or alcohol.

Families are required to reapply for SNAP benefits on occasion, usually every six to 12 months. The reapplication period is extended to one to two years for households with elderly or disabled occupants. Families that experience a significant increase in income must notify their welfare office.

How Much Assistance Does SNAP Provide for Families?

Last year, the average monthly assistance provided was $127. This equates to roughly $1.41 per meal in benefits. Benefits are based on individual needs so certain households with the lowest income qualify for higher amounts on their EBT card. SNAP's goal is to provide each family with enough assistance to meet the standards set by the Thrifty Food Plan - a USDA created diet that is affordable and nutritious.

To calculate the formula, it is assumed that 30 percent of a household's net income will be used to purchase food. Benefits are given to ensure that the household can meet the Thrifty Food Plan. For example, a household with a bit of income will be supplied with enough assistance to complete the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan while a household with zero income will receive the entire cost of the plan.

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