Millions of American families are struggling to make ends meet on any given day. For many people, hardship comes suddenly and unexpectedly. People who never expected to depend on assistance programs can find themselves facing a medical emergency, the loss of a job, the collapse of a relationship, or any number of other circumstances that can stretch the budget to the breaking point. Food is our most basic and constant need, and when trouble arrives the first thing we worry about is how to feed our family. If you’re facing that question, you should be considering SNAP.
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the US government’s frontline defense against hunger. The program provides low-income families with cash benefits that they can only spend on food in the form of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which functions as a debit card. The federal government pays for the benefits, and federal and state governments share the cost of administration. The average monthly benefit for a family of four is $465. That can go a long way toward alleviating those budget blues.
SNAP is one of the US government’s most popular and widely used programs with over 44 million participants. If you’re under severe financial stress, there is a good chance that you are qualified, but it’s always a good idea to assess your eligibility before taking on the application process.
Eligibility depends on non-financial and financial factors. During the application process, you will be required to fill out paperwork, pass through an interview and provide evidence to support the information you report.
Eligibility Break Down by Family Size and Income
Most households must meet certain income eligibility requirements to receive SNAP benefits.
What Is a Household?
A household is anyone who lives together and prepares meals together. Most households are composed of parents and their children. Additional members may be included if multiple individuals live under one roof and prepare meals together.
Who Is Exempt from Income Requirements?
If all members are receiving assistance like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a household is usually exempt from the income eligibility requirements.
What Are the Income Requirements?
The SNAP application requires detailed income information for each household member. There is an income limit, but some income payments do not count towards SNAP eligibility. Applicants must report earned income (such as a paycheck) and unearned income (such as cash assistance, social security, unemployment and child support).
SNAP is available to families with a gross monthly income (a household’s total, non-excluded income, before any deductions) of 130% of the federal poverty line or a net monthly income (gross income minus allowable deductions) of 100% of the poverty level, subject to other criteria. From Oct 1, 2016, to Sept 30, 2017, the maximum gross income for SNAP income is:
$1,287 for a household of 1
$1,736 for a household of 2
$2,184 for a household of 3
$2,633 for a household of 4
$3,081 for a household of 5
$3,530 for a household of 6
$3,980 for a household of 7
$4,430 for a household of 8
$451 for each additional member beyond 8.
The first step in assessing your eligibility is to add up your monthly income and see if it falls below the specified level.
Be sure that you consider these factors when calculating your income.
You can make some deductions when determining income. These include:
20% earned income deduction
Child care expenses
Child support payments
Medical costs for the elderly and disabled
Shelter costs like rent, utilities, etc.
Additional Eligibility Factors
Income is not the only factor determining your eligibility for SNAP. You will have to meet several other requirements.
Every member of your household must have a social security card. They must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or qualified aliens. Legal immigrants who have children who are disabled CAN get benefits. Children with American citizenship but who may have undocumented parents are eligible to receive SNAP.
What Are Your Assets?
A household must have assets that are less than $2,250 for a household and $3,250 for a disabled or elderly individual to be eligible for benefits. An asset is anything that an individual can use to purchase food for a household. Homes, automobiles, and personal belongings are not usually considered assets. Cash on hand or in the bank is an asset.
Elderly and Disabled Individuals
An elderly individual is anyone over the age of 60 years old. A disabled individual is one who is in one or more of the following situations:
Receives disability payments like Supplemental Security Income or SSI
Receives a disability retirement benefit from a government agency
Receives an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act and is eligible for Medicare or is considered to be disabled based on the SSI rules; or
Is a veteran who is disabled, permanently housebound, or in need of regular aid and attendance; or
Is a surviving spouse or child of a veteran who is receiving VA benefits and is considered to be permanently disabled
Elderly and disabled individuals are more easily approved and can receive larger allowances, so be sure to establish whether you qualify.
If an individual is between the ages of 18 and 50 and does not have children in their household, they are only eligible for benefits for three months out of a three-year period. The individual MUST take part in a work fair or training program while on SNAP. This requirement does not apply in some locations.
In addition to the above, able-bodied individuals between 16 and 60 must accept suitable employment if offered. Failure to comply with these employment requirements can result in disqualification.
It is important that you are honest on your application. Report any changes in your qualifying situations promptly. Do not use anyone else’s information when applying for benefits. Failure to follow these rules may result in penalties, denial of benefits or even prosecution.
The Bottom Line
SNAP is a highly useful program that has saved many American families from hunger, and if you are having a hard time affording food for your family, you should certainly investigate it. An honest assessment of your eligibility is the best place to start. Good luck!