The most significant anti-hunger program in the country is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), previously known as the Food Stamp Program. SNAP enables approximately 40 million low-income Americans to afford nutritious food in a typical month.
What Does SNAP Entail?
Low-wage working families, low-income seniors and persons with disabilities living on fixed incomes, and other individuals and households with low incomes also benefit from SNAP.
Two-thirds of SNAP recipients are from families with children, while a third live with seniors or persons with disabilities. It is the most responsive government program, second only to unemployment insurance, in terms of giving extra support during economic downturns.
The federal government covers the whole cost of SNAP payments and shares the expense of program administration with the states that run it.
Who Can Apply for SNAP?
Unlike other means-tested assistance programs, which are limited to certain groups of low-income people, SNAP is accessible to all low-income families.
For the most part, SNAP eligibility requirements and benefit amounts are determined at the federal level and are consistent throughout the country; however, states have the ability to tweak components of the program, such as the value of a car a family may possess while still qualifying for benefits.
To be eligible for SNAP assistance, a household must fulfill three requirements, according to federal standards (though states may change these limits):
- In fiscal year 2019, a three-person family’s gross monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, or $2,252 per month (about $27,020 per year). This restriction is waived for households with an elderly or handicapped member.
- Its net monthly income must be less than or equal to the poverty level ($1,732 per month or $20,780 per year for a three-person household in fiscal year 2019).
- Its assets must be below specific thresholds: in fiscal year 2019, the thresholds are $2,250 for families without an elderly or handicapped member and $3,500 for those who have.
Strikers, most college students, and some legal immigrants, for example, are not eligible for SNAP, regardless of how low their income or assets are. SNAP is also ineligible for undocumented immigrants.
Unless they work at least 20 hours per week or are enrolled in a qualified workfare or job training program, most jobless childless individuals are only eligible for three months of payments.
States may apply for temporary extensions to this time restriction in regions with substantial unemployment and a scarcity of suitable jobs.
States must produce thorough Labor Department unemployment statistics for the state or locations within the state that indicate persistent high unemployment rates in order to secure a waiver.
Due to severe unemployment during the Great Recession and its aftermath, most states were granted exceptions from the time restriction.
As unemployment rates declined, however, fewer places throughout the nation were eligible for statewide exemptions. In most states, the time restriction is presently in place in at least a section of the state.
Many adults in SNAP homes also have independent, extensive power to enforce job requirements.
How Do People Apply for SNAP?
Following federal rules, each state creates its own SNAP application procedure. Households apply in person at their local SNAP office in most states, although they may also mail or fax their applications, and most states provide online applications.
Applicants must complete an eligibility interview, which is often conducted over the phone.
They must also provide documentation for their identification, residence, immigration status, household composition, income and resources, and deductible costs, among other things.
Eligible households get an EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card that is filled with benefits once a month. It can be used to buy food at any of the 263,000 retailers who have signed up to participate in the program.
More than 80 percent of benefits are spent at supermarkets or superstores. Alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, vitamin supplements, non-food grocery items such as home goods, and hot meals are all prohibited from being purchased with SNAP.
If a household’s income increases significantly, they must notify the local SNAP office. They must also reapply for SNAP on a regular basis, usually every six to twelve months for most families and every 12 to 24 months for seniors and disabled people.
How Much Money Does a Household Get in Benefits?
In fiscal year 2018, the typical SNAP user got around $127 per month (or roughly $4.17 per day, or $1.39 each meal).
Because very poor households require more assistance affording an adequate diet, the SNAP benefit formula prioritizes benefits based on need. Very poor households receive larger benefits than households closer to the poverty line.
The benefit calculation estimates that families would spend 30 percent of their net income on food; SNAP covers the difference between that 30 percent contribution and the cost of the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is meant to be nutritionally appropriate at a low cost.
The maximum benefit amount is paid to a family with no net income, which is equivalent to the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan for a family of its size.
For example, a family of three with a net monthly income of $600 gets the maximum benefit ($505) minus 30 percent of their net income ($180) for a total of $324.
What is the Cost of SNAP?
SNAP and other food assistance programs cost the federal government $68 billion in fiscal year 2018.
92 percent of SNAP expenditure goes directly to food payments, with the remaining seven percent going to state administrative expenses, such as eligibility decisions, SNAP household employment and training, nutrition education, and anti-fraud efforts.