With the economy at the worst we have seen it in a long time there are many people resorting to assistance programs that have never had to use them before. It is helpful and reassuring that we have systems to assist in our most desperate times of need. The health and human services section of the government oversees the individual states social service departments. This is where you journey to receive assistance will begin.
You will need to go to your local social service department and complete and applications for food stamps. Three are other services that offer help in many areas such as heating assistance, medical insurance assistance and funds to help families with no income at all. You may qualify for some of these programs so check into these while you are there.
To save yourself time and speed the application process along, there are certain documents you MUST have in order for the application to be complete. These include: birth certificates for the entire house hold, social security cards for the house hold members, utility bills, such as telephone or electric bill, proof of all income, wages stubs, letters of award from social security, any thing that shows how and from where the house hold income is coming from and the payment schedule of it, weekly, biweekly, monthly etc. You will need proof of your mortgage or rent. This can either be receipts from previous payments or a letter from your landlord stating what your current rent is monthly. If you have other expenses, car loans, credit cards, unpaid medical bills take all of these documents as well. You will have to provide the names, addresses and telephone numbers of 2 or 3 people that can confirm who lives in your house and your current economic status. They can not be family members. Once you have all the necessary paper work together and have successfully applied, you wait. The department has up to 30 days to complete your application and you can count on it taking at least that long with more and more people applying for assistance every day. In some hardship cases you could qualify for emergency food stamps. This is a special case where there has been little or no income in the home and a sever need is determined. If you qualify for emergency food stamps you could see benefits much sooner.
Once approved and you receive an EBT card (electronic benefit transaction) there are a few things you need to do. First sign the card, next activate it. There will be an 800 number to call for activation with step by step instructions on how to select a pin for the card. The card can not be used until it is activated.
Once activated it is ready for use. Benefits are electronically transferred to the card on certain days of the month. It usually depends on the last numbers of your social security number as to what day of the month your benefits are available. Once the benefits are available, you can call the number on the card to check the balance and transaction history at anytime.
Shopping with an EBT card gives you the added benefit of not having to pay taxes on your food purchases. There are items not allowed by the program, most of them are simple to understand, others can be a bit tricky.
You can not purchase any item that is not edible. You can not purchase alcoholic products or already prepared foods, such as deli plates or food items. You can however, purchase deli meats and cheese, as well as bread and pastry items from the deli section. You can also purchase spices, seasoning, and sauces.
While these benefits may seem “FREE” they are not. Tax payers help to ensure that safety nets like the food stamp program are there for those who need the service. You should respect that and shop wisely when using your EBT benefits to do your part to make your dollars stretch as far as possible.
You should use coupons, but only on items you already use. Don’t get drawn in to purchasing items that you neither want nor will use just because you have a coupon for it. Make list and meal plans for two weeks. I suggest you visit the store twice during the month and purchase two weeks worth of meals each visit. This way you save on trips to the store and will have adequate storage space in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer for the purchases. Purchase in bulk when ever possible. This will save a lot of money in the end. Just get the necessary storage wraps and containers to divide the larger purchase into individual meal size servings. Fresh vegetables and fruits can be expensive. Check the frozen section for vegetables that will not only save you money but will last longer than their fresh counterpart. Canned fruits in natural juices with no sugar added is another alternative to fresh fruit. There are some things you will need to get fresh such as bananas but for most items you can find them in either the frozen food section or in cans and they are just as good and last longer.
Try to limit how much you spend on snack foods and soda. These are expensive items and don’t offer any nutritional value. Everyone should have soda, chips and candy from time to time, but watch how much you spend in these areas.
There are always things that you will run out of and can’t purchase in bulk, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and bread. You may have to make a mid-two-week stop by the store for these items.
Stay away from convenient stores that accept EBT. The prices are outrageous and you have a very limited selection. It should only be done in an emergency situation.
These are just some helpful hints and ideas on how to obtain Food Stamp assistance and the best way to get the most out of your benefits once you qualify. I hope it has been helpful and I also hope that things in our country get better so we see less of a need for people to apply for these types of services. But until we do see a change please do not hesitate to go and apply for the help you need.