In many situations, people might find themselves in need of help. If you are a single mother, the head of a low-income family, or you just had a financial crisis, you will be familiar with this feeling. To help you out, the federal government develops a wide range of assistance programs for different life necessities. Supplying food, medical care, housing, child care, education, and financial assistance are all included in these programs’ objectives.

One of the most reliable and popular federal assistance programs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as “food stamps”, SNAP aims to help low-income families and individuals buy high-quality food. Being the largest program working to fight hunger in the U.S., SNAP is helping 9.5 million households and children across the country purchase food.

How Does It Work?

In 1990, paper food stamps were replaced with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, which functioned similarly to debit cards and were linked to benefits accounts. It took until 2014 for paper stamps to be phased out completely. Every month, the EBT cards get refilled and can be used to buy food items in stores that accept them as a form of payment like grocery stores, gas stations, etc.

Using the EBT system, the state governments provide benefits and track their use. Other public assistance programs have been merged into the EBT systems in some states.

SNAP benefits are deposited into electronic benefit accounts that require a PIN number to access. As a recipient, you can use the card, just the way you use a debit card, at EBT participating stores, ATMs, and point-of-sale (POS) terminals.

How Is It Funded?

The federal government covers the whole cost of SNAP subsidies and splits the cost of program administration with the states. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages SNAP through a large network of field offices.

Local FNS field offices are in charge of licensing and supervising retail food businesses that participate in SNAP. While state authorities decide the eligibility for SNAP benefits and distribute the funds every month.

Who is Eligible for SNAP?

Anyone earning less than 130% of the federal poverty level is eligible for SNAP. In the federal fiscal year 2022, the poverty level used to calculate SNAP benefits is $1,830 per month for a household of three. Therefore, 130% of the poverty line is $2,379 per month or nearly $28,550 per year for a three-person household.

The poverty line is higher for larger families and lower for smaller ones. Besides, the amount of the benefit depends on the income and the size of a family and whether it involves an elderly or someone with a disability.

Also, the household assets or resources, such as bank accounts, must be lower than a specific amount. And lastly, this program is only available for US citizens and people with eligible immigration status.

Make sure to check with your state SNAP office for the most up-to-date information on eligibility, since COVID-19 relief measures have eased some requirements.

How to Apply?

During the pandemic, you may be able to apply for SNAP online, by mail, or by phone. Because each state has a unique application form and process, we recommend contacting your local state SNAP office for more information.

After you submit your SNAP application, it may take up to 30 days for your local SNAP office to process it. During the application review process, your SNAP office may ask you to complete a simple interview. This interview is usually conducted over the phone or in person.

If you are eligible, you will begin receiving benefits depending on the day you filed your application. If you fulfill additional requirements, you may be eligible for SNAP benefits within 7 days after submitting your application.

For example, let’s say your household has less than $100 in liquid assets and $150 in monthly gross income, or your household’s total monthly gross income and liquid assets are less than what you spend each month for rent or mortgage and utilities.

In case you are unable to visit or contact your local SNAP office, or if you do not have internet access, you may have another person apply and complete the interview on your behalf as an authorized representative.

What Can I Purchase with SNAP?

SNAP benefits cover so many groceries and food items that you need, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables;
  • Poultry, meat, and fish;
  • Dairy products;
  • Cereals and different types of bread;
  • Other foods, like snack foods and nonalcoholic beverages;
  • And plants and seeds that you can use to produce food.

However, there are some exclusions from the SNAP benefits, such as:

  • Alcohol and tobacco products like cigarettes;
  • Medicines, vitamins, and supplements;
  • Live animals;
  • Non-Food grocery items, such as cleaning supplies and pets food;
  • And hot meals.

Where Can I Use My EBT Card?

You can use SNAP benefits to purchase food at lots of local grocery stores, convenience stores, farmer’s markets, and even some online delivery websites like Walmart and Amazon. To locate the nearest SNAP retailer to you, click here.

How Has the Pandemic Affected the Program?

In general, the need for food increased since the pandemic started. The poverty rate has risen dramatically by the end of 2020, with 11.8 % of the population at the poverty line. This was an increase of 2.4%, or 8.1 million people, over the previous year’s figures, according to Investopedia.

In addition to unemployment, low wages for employees are another factor that contributes to poverty. Significantly, over 75% of SNAP-eligible households had at least one working member. Approximately one-third of families had two or more workers.

With the approval of the Families, First Coronavirus Response Act on March 18, 2020, SNAP benefits experienced a temporary rise. Then, in June 2021, the benefits increased one more time by 15%. After that, the increase was extended under the American Rescue Plan through the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) starting from September 2021. The benefits of the new P-EBT vary by state but can now include:

  • A 15% increase in the maximum SNAP benefit amount.
  • Increasing SNAP online purchasing options, allowing participants in 47 states and the District of Columbia to enjoy the same food-buying advantages as the rest of the US.
  • Making use of virtual learning platforms to provide important SNAP Nutrition Education services.

Moreover, the relief laws also simplified SNAP eligibility standards and the application procedures.

In addition, the American Rescue Plan provided $1.135 billion in administrative resources over three years to help states deal with the rising demand for benefits. The law provided families with food dollars to help make up for meals missed when schools are closed. Coupled with a billion dollars in block grants for nutrition assistance to the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa.

How Effective is SNAP?

During the Pandemic…

According to a recent study based on U.S. Census Bureau pulse surveys, the introduction of the December 2020 and March 2021 relief laws had a rapid and large positive effect on different aspects of life.

From December 2020 to April 2021, for example, food insufficiency decreased by nearly 41% for households with children, a category that had faced the greatest rates of food insufficiency during the pandemic. Declines in material hardship were most significant among low-income households, although they were also seen at higher income levels.

Financial Impacts

SNAP makes a great difference in the economic well-being and health of low-income families and communities. For instance, SNAP boosts local economies by generating $1.79 in economic activity for every $1 of federally supported SNAP benefits.

Census Bureau data also demonstrate the critical role of government nutrition programs and other low-income family assistance. SNAP moved 4.6 million individuals out of poverty in 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which serves as an indicator of economic well-being.

Health Impacts

Numerous studies show that receiving SNAP benefits has a positive impact on the health and well-being of households participating in the program. Having access to affordable healthy food and saving money for other needs lead to this result.

Food Security

SNAP increases food security, provides benefits that allow families to purchase better meals, and frees up money that may be spent for health-promoting activities and medical treatment. Moreover, SNAP reduces the overall prevalence of food insecurity by up to 30%. It is even more effective among the most vulnerable, such as children and those who have to skip meals or eat less throughout the year due to a lack of money.

Food insecurity among children dropped by about a third after their families received SNAP assistance for six months. This is according to the broadest and most comprehensive study of the association between SNAP participation and food security.

Impact on Income Maintenance

SNAP’s implementation goal is to help low-income households get appropriate and healthy, diets. Peter H. Rossi, a sociologist whose work included evaluating social programs, explains that “the program rests on the assumption that households with restricted incomes may skimp on food purchases and live on diets that are inadequate in quantity and quality, or, alternatively skimp on other necessities to maintain an adequate diet“.

Income maintenance refers to money that households may spend on other things now that they no longer have to spend it on food. Thus, with SNAP benefits, low-income families can not only afford high-quality foods but also maintain their income.

The Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP)

The Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) provides food assistance to low-income families that have suffered food loss or damage as a result of a natural disaster. D-SNAP standards are different from regular SNAP in order to meet the specific requirements of disaster survivors. If you are not ordinarily eligible for SNAP, you may be eligible for D-SNAP if you have one of the disaster-related expenses listed below:

  • House or business repairs or protection;
  • Temporary shelter;
  • Expenses for evacuation or relocation;
  • Personal injury resulting from a natural disaster, including funeral expenses;
  • Losing your income source due to a disaster; includes reduced, terminated, or delayed receipt of income, for a large part of the benefit period.

In the event that you are a current SNAP recipient, you can request a supplement when your state implements D-SNAP if you are currently receiving benefits that are less than the monthly limit, and you have suffered losses because of the disaster. As a catastrophe survivor, You can apply for D-SNAP benefits at dedicated locations in your area. As usual, just call your local office.

In a Word…

It is Ok to seek help when you find yourself in a tight spot. Securing healthy food is essential, not a luxurious aspect that can simply be ignored or given up on. Therefore you should consider applying for SNAP; it has been helping millions of Americans and you can join them. Participating in this program can have a great impact on your financial and health situation.

Find out if you are eligible and apply for SNAP benefits by contacting your local SNAP office, visiting your state agency’s website, or calling your state’s toll-free SNAP Information hotline. Some states provide online applications that you can fill out on the state agency’s website. In case of a disaster, you can apply for D-SNAP. This program has much more to offer than the normal SNAP.