As a seventeen year veteran of the state of Arizona’s Family Assistance Program, I have seen all kinds of people seated on the other side of my desk. Where many people have the misconception that “food stamps are just for poor people,” I can tell you that they are wrong.
The term “food stamps” is pretty much a thing of the past, and we now refer to the government subsidy program as S.N.A.P. (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The project was initially implemented in 1939 to assist the poverty stricken people during the Great Depression and, at the time, stamps were purchased at a reduced rate to assist people in providing their families with nutritional meals. The program has changed numerous times over the course of the past 70 years, as have the people who now make use of it.
Qualifying for S.N.A.P. is different for every household. The first thing that is looked at is household concept, or the number of qualifying people within your home. Just because you have seven family members, it does not necessarily mean that all seven would qualify. Contrary to what people may believe, illegal immigrants are not eligible for nutritional assistance. There are also regulations that apply to students of higher education. Another consideration is prior food stamp fraud.
Your resources will play an important part in qualifying. Your home is exempt, but if you own additional properties (such as rentals) they will be counted, as will your bank accounts, stocks and any other assets. Your first vehicle will be excluded but all additional vehicles in your name will be counted.
Income is a factor that is often misconstrued. Any (and all) income that you receive must be reported at the time of application. If a qualifying individual is employed, their income is counted as “earned income.” If you have a non-qualifying household member that is working, a portion of their income might also be counted. Other income (such as unemployment, child support, social security, veteran‘s benefits, etc.) is “unearned income.” The important thing is to report all income and let the eligibility worker determined what is counted and what is not.
When calculating your benefit entitlement, there are certain deductions that you are entitled to. If employed, you will receive an earnings deduction. You will receive additional deductions if you pay rent or mortgage, utilities and even child care. Elderly and/or disabled individuals receive an additional deduction for medical expenses. Each household is different, so you should never speculate what you may (or may not) be allowed according to what one of your friends may have received.
USING YOUR BENEFITS
Food Stamp/ EBT Card
Paper food stamps have been done away with in most states and have been replaced by the EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transfer). These cards work just like a debit card and are accepted at most grocery outlets. Having the card has eliminated much of the embarrassment once experienced by recipients and have made it easier on store clerks.
Whether you are issued food stamps or an EBT card, they are both regulated by the United State Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, and are acceptable in all states. If you are visiting out of state you can use your benefits and still continue receiving them in your home state “as long as your residency does not change.”
Purchasing Items With Food Stamps/EBT Card
Food stamps and EBT cards can be used for food items only, and cannot be used for items that can be consumed in the store (such as sandwiches or salads). As a rule, you can purchase a ready made burrito, but the moment it’s heated it become an ineligible item.
Vegetable seeds and vegetable plants may be purchased with food stamps/EBT card. As long as the plant (or seed) are meant to produce a food item, they are acceptable.
Food stamps/EBT cards can also be used to pay for Meals on Wheels that is delivered to the elderly or disabled. You should check locally for availability of this and similar programs.
FOOD STAMP/EBT RECIPIENTS
The Nutritional Food Program is meant to be a means by which to “supplement” your food buying power, not replace it altogether. The amount that each household is issued is dependent on their individual situation, but it no longer subsidizes merely the poor. The program now provides benefits to more than 37 million people nation wide, with a third of those added just over the past three years. As the number of recipients increase, so do the different types of people who receive them. A recipient could be a single mother who has no way to support her children and who relies on these to feed her children. It could be father who recently lost his job or a retiree on social security. There is no way to categorize or stereo-type those in need. It could, in fact, even be you.