Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program In United States

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP run by the United States Government is an important mechanism for protecting the needy from hunger. However, the program design also aims to cut down the incentives and probability of fraudulent claims, thereby making it somewhat cumbersome for the recipients to claim the relief. But then, taxpayer money needs to be protected too.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in United States
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

In 2008, the name of the Food Stamps Program was changed to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. This change in name can be attributed to the fact that with technological developments, the typical paper food stamps that were issues to the needy for buying food articles, were gradually being replaced by issue of electronic cards, wherein the amount that was earlier disbursed by paper food stamps was electronically transferred.

However, most of the other features of the earlier Foods Stamps program have been largely retained in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, apart from the manner of

disbursement. The electronic card transfer is actually a far more convenient mode of disbursing benefits, and also significantly cuts down the possibility of fraudulent transfers and misuse, making the program better targeted and more efficient.

In spite of the change in its name, there is still a tendency to refer the benefits under SNAP as food stamps particularly because the program largely distributes the same benefits at it did earlier by way of food stamps.

Food Stamps: An Introduction

Food stamps are special benefits provided in the form of an Electronic Benefit Transfer Card or the EBT Card, which can be used by swiping the card along with an assigned PIN number from a grocery shop that accepts those cards.

Food stamp benefits are provided with the sole objective of supplementing nutrition of those Americans who do not have the money to buy themselves proper nutrition. To ensure that this benefit is not wasted for other purposes, restrictions are placed on the use of food stamps for buying items other than prescribed food.

To use the food stamps, one needs to be aware as to how much benefit has been added to her card, when is the benefit added, for what period the benefit is available and what items can be purchased using that benefit.

How Much Benefit?

The benefits eligible to a household depend upon a number of factors including number of members in the household, their age and state of disability if any, the total gross and net income of the household and its expenses. Simply put, the benefit available is the difference between the maximum monthly benefit available for that household size and the 30% of the net household income.

Thus, households with no income receive the maximum monthly benefit. In 2017, the maximum monthly benefit is $ 194 in case of a one member household, $649 in case of a four member household and $ 1,169 in case of an eight member household, with $ 146 added for every additional member thereafter. More details can be found on the official website of Food and Nutrition Service, which is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

When is the Benefit Available?

The monthly benefit will be added to the card once a month. Any unspent amount at the end of the month is carried forward, but if it remains unspent for over 9 to 12 months (depending upon the state), then the foods stamps office may initiate the process to remove those benefits from the account.

What can be Purchased from the Benefit?

Food stamps are a benefit provided for a very specific purpose - the nutritional well being of the nation, and nothing

else. Thus, they can only be used for the purpose of purchasing certain food that will add nutrition to the diet of the household.

The following items CAN be purchased using food stamps:

i. Foods for the household to eat, such as:

  • breads and cereals

  • fruits and vegetables

  • meats, fish and poultry; and

  • dairy products

ii. Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.

The following items CANNOT be purchased using the food stamps:

  • beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco

  •  any non-food items, such as:

                 - pet foods;

                 - soaps, paper products; and

                 - household supplies.

                 - Vitamins and medicines. 

                 - food that will be eaten in the store. 

                 - hot foods 

How to Purchase the Eligible Food Items

Since there are restrictions on the items that can be purchased using food stamps, it is always preferable to plan your food stamp purchases in advance, keeping in view the restrictions and the amount available. Decide the place you wish to make the purchases. Visit that grocery store, select the items and make the payment by swiping the EBT card in the same machine as used for debit cards, while selecting the option 'EBT card' and entering your PIN number as in other cards. It is preferable to preserve the receipt for records.

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In case of any problems, you will need to get in touch with your local food stamps office and sort the matter.

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