"Do I qualify for food stamps?" If you're finding your household budget doesn't meet all of your expenses, you may be asking this question.
About Food Stamps
What people commonly refer to as food stamps is the food assistance benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). These funds are paid out once a month on a card that resembles a debit card.
A food stamp card can be used at most grocery stores or convenience stores to purchase meat, bread, dairy, produce, and other food items. However, food stamps can't be used to purchase:
- Shampoo, soap, razors, or other personal care items
- Household cleaning supplies
If you use your food stamp card and some of your items aren't an allowable purchase, you'll be asked to provide an alternative payment method for the remaining amount.
It is against the law to trade your food stamp benefits for cash or to use your food stamp benefits to purchase food for people outside your home. However, if you are unable to purchase your own groceries due to a disability or a lack of suitable transportation, you can designate a representative to use your benefits on your behalf. This is typically done by making a notation on your food stamp application.
Do I Qualify for Food Stamps?
The eligibility criteria for food stamp applications is very complex. Calculations begin with a base established by the federal poverty line, which as of December 2009 equated to $1,838 net income per month for a family of four.
However, some of the other factors that determine who receives food stamps are:
- Household size, as defined by the number of people who prepare meals together.
- Allowable deductions, such as legally-required child support payments.
- Value of household resources.
- Whether or not anyone in the home qualifies as an elderly or disabled applicant.
- If able-bodied adults with no children can meet the state's specified work requirements.
The USDA offers an online pre-screening tool that can help you determine if you may qualify. However, since so much of the application process is variable, the best way to answer this question is to simply fill out an application and see if it is approved.
Food Stamps and College Students
In most cases, college students are not eligible to receive food stamps. However, exceptions are made for students who have children. Parents who attend college full or part time and wish to receive food stamps must work at least 20 hours per week or be unable to work due to a lack of appropriate child care.
Food Stamps and Immigrants
Legal immigrants can receive food stamp assistance if they meet one or more of the following criteria:
- They are children.
- They have lived in the county for five years.
- They are receiving disability assistance or benefits.
- They were admitted to the U.S. for humanitarian reasons.
A food stamp application can be approved for some members of a household and not others, if there are certain family members that are don't meet the eligibility criteria.
Stretching Your Grocery Dollars
Unfortunately, even if you qualify for food stamps, there is a very good chance the amount you receive won't be enough to meet your entire need for the month. Food stamp benefits haven't increased at the rate of inflation, so it's important to be able to stretch your funds as far as possible. You can do this by planning frugal menus and cooking inexpensive meals. Stick as closely to your budget as possible for the best results.