Who Gets Food Stamps In United States?

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, earlier known as ‘Food stamps’ is an important way in which the US Government ensures that subsistence food, a merit good, reaches those who cannot afford to pay for it. It is an important part of the overall social security net directed at the least privileged of the society and in spite of the expiry of the expanded benefits in 2013, still provides a significant social support. Here is an overview about the benefits.
Who Gets Food Stamps in United States?
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASupplemental_Nutrition_Assistance_Program_logo.svg)

Under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the earlier Food Stamps Program was renamed in 2008, specified financial assistance, earlier known as ‘food stamps’, is made available to all those households that are unable to take care of their nutritional requirements on their own, provided they satisfy the detailed criteria laid down for the purpose. This use of this assistance is earmarked for supplementary nutrition and cannot be used for other purposes, hence still referred as ‘food stamps’.

Policy behind Food Stamps

Food & Nutrition Act of 2008 described the policy of U.S. Congress for initiating the Food Stamps program in these


"To alleviate such hunger and malnutrition, a supplemental nutrition assistance program is herein authorized which will permit low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation."

(Section 2 of FOOD AND NUTRITION ACT OF 2008, as Amended Through P.L. 110246, Effective October 1, 2008).

Eligibility Criteria to Get Food Stamps

(1) Citizenship / Immigration Status

Apart from the U.S. citizens, certain non-citizens such as those admitted for humanitarian reasons and those admitted for permanent residence are eligible for food stamps. These include most legal immigrants who:

  • have lived in the country for five (5) years, or
  • are receiving disability-related assistance or benefits, regardless of entry date, or
  • are children under 18 years of age regardless of entry date.

Eligible household members can get food stamp benefits even if other members of the household are not eligible. Non-citizens residing temporarily in the U.S., such as students, are not eligible, though some states like California have their own programs to provide benefits to such immigrants.

(2) Resources of the Household

The total 'resources' of the household should not be more than $ 2,250 for a household without a disabled member or a person over 60 years of age. For a household with a disabled member or a member over 60 years of age, the limit is $ 3,500. For this condition, 'resources' include all liquid and non liquid resources.

Liquid resources include cash, money in checking or savings accounts, savings certificates, trust deeds, notes receivable, stocks, bonds and non-recurring lump sum payments (including retroactive payments as well as funds held in an individual retirement accounts (IRA) or accessible Keogh plans). Non liquid resources include personal property, buildings, land, recreational properties, and any other property. The value of these resources is taken at its equity value, which is the fair market value less encumbrances.

Certain resources are excluded for this purpose like the home and surrounding property, vehicles, household goods, personal effects, non-financial resources with an equity value of $1500 or less, and inaccessible resources.

(3) Income Criteria

The main criteria that households desiring to get the benefit of food stamps must satisfy pertain to the income of the household. The INCOME DETERMINATION TEST used for deciding eligibility for food stamps lays down two main criteria, both of which must be satisfied for a household to revive food stamps. The only exceptions are households with an elderly person or a person receiving certain types of disability payments, which are required to satisfy only the net income criteria.

  • GROSS INCOME of the household from all sources, (excluding exempt income) including all earned and unearned income should not be more than 130% of the Federal poverty level (FPL), or 165% of the FPL if the household has an elderly or disabled person. For 2017-18 (October, 2017 to September, 2018), the gross income limit for a single member household is $ 1,307, while that of a 4 member household and an 8 member household are $ 2,665 and $ 4,477 respectively, with an addition of $ 453 for every additional member.

  • NET INCOME of the household, computed after reducing all allowable deductions from the gross income must not be more than 100% of the FPL. As of now, in 2017-18, the FPL for a household of one member is $ 990 while that of a 4 member household and an 8 member

    household are $ 2050 and 4 3,444 respectively, with $ 349 to be added for each additional member.

ALLOWABLE DEDUCTIONS - For computing the net income, following deductions are allowed for the year 2017-18:

  • 20 percent deduction from earned income;
  • Standard deduction of $160 for households of 1 to 3 persons, $160 for 4 persons, $199 for 5 persons, and $228 for 6 or more persons;
  • Dependent care deduction for work, training, or education on the basis of self declared costs, subject to verification where considered necessary;
  • Medical expenses paid for elderly or disabled members in excess of $35 during a month;
  • Legally owed child support payments;
  • Shelter costs in some states for homeless households as a set amount of $143; and
  • Excess shelter costs that exceed half of the household's income after other deductions. For this purpose, shelter costs can include costs of rent or mortgage, taxes, interest, and utilities such as gas, electricity, and water. There is usually an upper limit for excess shelter cost, except households with an elderly or disabled member.

EXEMPT INCOME - In-kind Benefits like meals, clothing, housing provided by the employer, vendor payments, deferred educational loans, grants and scholarships, cash donations up to $300 in a quarter and unanticipated irregular income up to $30 in a quarter are exempted and not included in the gross and net income computed for the Income determination test.

(4) Working Requirements

To be eligible for food stamps benefit, working requirements must be fulfilled, which include registering for work, not quitting a job voluntarily, accepting a job if offered and participating in employment and training program offered by state. Failure to comply can lead to disqualification from SNAP. All able-bodied persons (ages 18-49) without dependents must work 20 hours per week or participate 20 hours per week in an approved work activity or do workfare. Otherwise, they get only 3 months of Food Stamps out of a 36-month period. Elderly, children, pregnant women and those suffering from physical or mental diseases are exempted.

(5) Reporting Requirements

To remain eligible, all eligible households must immediately report any change in their income or other circumstances. The seasonal and migrant farm workers, elderly, disabled and homeless need to report within 10 days, changes in earned income of over $ 100 a month or unearned income of over $ 50 a month. When a household is placed in EZ reporting, it is not required to report changes in income, except when the household gross income exceeds the standard amount.

Changes in number of persons in the household, job status, address, housing, shelter costs or a transaction of a licensed vehicle or when resources reach a total of $2,000 ($3,000 for elderly and disabled households), they also need to be reported. These can be reported in the SNAP Program Change Report Form.

However, the majority of SNAP households are now placed on ‘Simplified Reporting’ and need to report their circumstances on a quarterly basis.

Receiving the Benefit

A person or a household that continues to satisfy these criteria can get the food stamps, through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card made available by the local office, in which the benefits are loaded automatically each month as per their eligibility. This card, which is similar to a debit or credit card, can be used to buy groceries from authorized food stores.

The subsidies for food have been balanced by checks and balances to keep the program benefits restricted to the needy.

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