United States of America [USA] is known for its robust social welfare schemes that enable lower and middle-class people to survive its behemoth economy. Federal and state governments continuously come up with unique life and health programs that allow people to benefit from low-cost services, and goods. These schemes are available to millions of people around the country.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP was formerly known as Food stamp program. It is a program that is currently benefitting more than 40 million Americans annually. As simple as it sounds, the scheme encompasses a lot of nuances that should be known to everyone. This article is going to cover all the aspects related to this scheme in detail which includes its eligibility criteria, its functioning method, how to avail of the benefits and much more.
A brief introduction to SNAP
Revisit a section
Formerly known as the Food stamp program, SNAP is a federal scheme that allows low income or people with no income to have food assistance. It is managed by the US department of agriculture under Food and nutrition service [FNS]. There is an estimate that more than 41 million people below the federal poverty line are eligible and receive these benefits.
The cost of this program is entirely on the federal government. The administrative costs are split with the states accordingly with the help of field offices. The local field offices of FNS are responsible for monitoring and licensing the stores that can provide benefits under SNAP. If there is a disaster, the Disaster SNAP is also present to provide for sudden food emergencies and shortages in case of natural or man-made disasters such as hurricanes, fires or wars.
Even during the times of COVID 19, the expenditure on SNAP was increased through legislative action due to the devastating effects the pandemic had on unemployment and health. Covid forced people to stay at home which led to many job losses and income reductions in lower-income households. Thus, the federal government revamped its expenditure ratio to cover up for this emergency.
History of SNAP
SNAP which was earlier running as the food stamp program worked on a stamp model, as the name suggests. It was first started in 1939. There were different colour coded snaps in orange and blue which were equivalent to a certain dollar. These stamps were then provided to people who were eligible to be used at licensed shops for availing certain food commodities excluding alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.
After this, the food stamp program went through major changes in form of its eligibility requirement, available commodities etc. Changes were made to prevent misuse of the program as well. In 2008, the program was named to SNAP and the concept of coupons was done away with. In place of stamps, the legislature introduced a card that would be used to provide benefits to eligible people. This card is a form of debit card where the users get benefits without producing the actual stamp. It allowed for more instant transfer of money to the accounts of people needing it and reduced expenditure on the part of the government as well.
Like all other federal government schemes, SNAP also comes with well-knit eligibility criteria along with an application process. To avail of these benefits, participants must mandatorily fulfil these criteria, failing which they shall be denied any form of benefit under the scheme. Here, some of the major eligibility criteria for the scheme are discussed in detail. The important point to be noted here is that these criteria are under different heads, such as work, income, age etc, and they are not mutually exclusive of each other at all times. Sometimes, people need to fulfil more than one criteria to be eligible.
1. Income – To be eligible to receive assistance under the scheme, a house must a gross monthly income of less than 130% below the federal poverty line. The income can be equal to or below this threshold to be eligible. The individual and collective gross monthly income for households is different and needs to be checked on the website. Generally, the SNAP income limit is $1245 or less for one person and $2552 for a family of four people.
If any individual has an income equal to or less than this amount, he or she is eligible under the income head to avail the benefits. For 2022, this limit is $1396 for gross income and %1074 in net income. For a family with two people, this limit is $1888 in gross income and $1452 in net income.
2. Resource – There are different requirements for resources contained within a family or with an individual as well which differs from state to state. Generally speaking, if a person has more than $2250 in his or her bank account at the time of applying to the scheme, he or she may not be eligible for the scheme. This figure differs from state to state and needs to be checked individually. Generally, the resources required are not a burden and not posed very low so as to disregard little investments and savings that low-income people have.
3. Working requirements – Most of the government schemes require a working condition. In this case, the recipients of the scheme must work more than 30 hours a week or they may register to train with the state for working. Additionally, they must not refuse, quit a job without a good reason. For adults between the age of 18 and 49 years of age, who are not pregnant and do not have minor dependants, this requirement goes up to 80 hours per month at volunteering, workforce training etc. These work requirements are often exempted for students, caregivers and old people or people in a drug rehabilitation program.
4. Immigrants – This is a special eligibility criterion that is applicable only to non-citizens of the country. SNAP is applicable to legal immigrants as well if they fulfil certain conditions laid down by the legislature. First, they must be living in the country for more than 5 years. Secondly, they must have children under 18. Thirdly, they must be receiving benefits under any other disability-related schemes etc from the federal government.
The application process for SNAP can be tricky if not researched enough.
Any person who wishes to enrol must fill out an application form at the local SNAP office. The application form for each state is different, which needs to be checked on the website or with the local office only. They can also be found on the FNS website. During the application, eligibility proofs need to be shown such as income statements, working hours, assets and housing liabilities. Personal details including phone number, address, family members etc need to be given as well.
A person can apply by phone, email, or online as well. SNAP may ask for the size of the household, annual income and assets. The only thing that needs to be kept in mind while filling out the form is the documents. All the documents should be in line with the website or the office mentions. A lack of original or authentic documents can lead to the rejection of the application.
NCOA also offers a screening tool that can tell if any person is eligible for SNAP or not. This is available on the website BenefitsCheckUp.org. Upon screening, the tool provides all the information needed to fill out the form and apply for the scheme.
Without going into the details, It is obvious that SNAP is a very beneficial program for different categories of people. It provides a reduction in a load of expenditure on food, which is a necessity. Studies have shown that SNAP has led to a reduction in the poverty rates and food insufficiency in Americans. A 2018 study also showed that SNAP has led to better health among toddlers and preschoolers who are using the scheme. Not to mention, SNAP significantly reduces the expenditure on an already low-income household. This helps in diverting the income to other necessities such as education, shelter, and clothing.
Frequently asked questions
1. How to know if you’re eligible for SNAP?
Knowing whether someone is eligible for SNAP or not is a very easy process. The person needs to visit BenefitsCheckUp.org and put in his/her details. The tool will autonomically tell you if you are eligible for the scheme you chose.
2. Is there any application fees?
No, since this is a fully-funded federal scheme for low-income people, there is absolutely no application fees for the same. The whole process of applying is free of cost for everyone.
3. Can the benefit be for more than 1 person?
Yes, SNAP comes with eligibility for single and family units. The income threshold for family or two people is different than for one person. This needs to be checked on the website. Generally, people avail the benefit as a part of the family only since not everyone is capable of applying.
4. What is the income threshold?
The latest income limit as per the government website is $1396 gross income for one person and $1074 in net income. For a family with two people, this limit is $1888 in gross income and $1452 in net income.
5. Are only US citizens eligible for SNAP?
No, even legal immigrants are eligible to apply provided they fulfill certain conditions. These conditions have been explained in detail above. However, illegal immigrants are not eligible for the program, so documents verifying your immigration status need to be shown.
SNAP is a beneficial program that provides food assistance to low-income households in America. It has greatly helped millions of families for decades and continues to do so. Even though time and again, critics have highlighted some faults in the scheme, it has enabled the legislature to rectify these mistakes and come out with a better version of the scheme later on. Till today, SNAP continues to be of extreme relevance. In covid 9 the importance of the scheme was highlighted when people face dire poverty and unemployment due to the pandemic.
If any person is not sure whether he/she is eligible for SNAP, a simple step of going to the government website and finding out is easier than not availing of the benefits under the same assumption. Make sure you and your family members are enrolled on the program if you are eligible.