The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last month that 46,556,434 Americans, or about 14 percent of the population, collected food stamps nationwide. The number of recipients was down from last year where 47,636,090 took advantage of the popular government program, according to EyesOnNews on Tuesday.
Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) is the government’s anti-hunger initiative helping Americans maintain a nutritionally adequate diet. About 76 percent of food stamp recipients are in families with children; while nearly one-third are elderly or have disabilities. These vulnerable households receive 83 percent of all SNAP benefits administered.
The federal government pays the full cost of food stamp benefits and splits the cost of administering the program with the states, which independently operate SNAP. Food stamp eligibility rules and benefit levels are generally uniform across nationwide.
After coming in within the top three nationwide for several years, Florida dropped to number 15 this year in total food stamp recipients with 16.1 percent of the population benefiting from the program. Households typically received $20-$24 per person, each month. Signed into law in February 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily boosted food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent.
Following unemployment insurance, SNAP is the most responsive federal program providing assistance during economic downturns. Because of benefit increases that were part of the 2009 economic recovery legislation, SNAP delivered $4.3 billion in additional economic stimulus relief that year. This number steadily increased through the end of fiscal year 2013.
Even as the economy starts to recover, approximately 11.3 million of those Americans never receiving SNAP benefits continue to be in financial need.
Who Is Eligible for the SNAP Program?
Unlike the majority of benefit programs that are restricted to particular categories of people, SNAP is available to most households with low incomes. To qualify for food stamps, a household must meet three criteria:
· Its total monthly income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, or roughly $2,144 (about $25,728 a year) for a three-person family in fiscal year 2010.
· Its net income, or income after deductions are applied for items such as high housing costs and child care, must be less than or equal to the poverty line.
· Its assets must fall below certain limits: households without an elderly member must have assets less than $2,000 while those with an elderly or disabled member must have assets not exceeding $3,000.
Some people are not eligible for food stamps regardless of income or need. Non-citizens without a qualified status and those convicted of drug trafficking are not eligible for food stamp benefits. Individuals who have broken SNAP rules on purpose or who are wanted on felony charges are also ineligible.
How Much Do Households Receive in Benefits?
SNAP households receive their benefits on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used only to purchase food. The average household receives approximately $126 a month (or $4 a day) for each household member.
The SNAP formula targets benefits according to need. Very poor households receive more food stamps than households closer to the poverty line since they need more assistance in maintaining an adequate diet.
Benefits are based on the “Thrifty Food Plan,” a low-cost but nutritionally adequate diet established by USDA. The benefit formula assumes that families will spend 30 percent of their net income on food. A family with no income receives the maximum $526 benefit amount, which usually covers the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan. In another example, a family of three with $600 in net monthly income would receive the maximum benefit minus 30 percent of its net income for a total of $346.
How Do People Apply for the SNAP Program?
In Florida, the Department of Children and Families is responsible for eligibility determination and case management of food stamps, temporary cash assistance and Medicaid assistance through the SNAP program. Visit the ACCESS Florida Program to determine eligibility.
Although a face-to-face interview may be required to document identity, eligibility, immigration status, household composition, income, resources, and deductable expenses, an initial application can be processed online. For those without Internet access, applications can be submitted at a Department of Children and Families ACCESS Florida Customer Service Center or any of its community partners.
“Learning about the programs available for economically disadvantaged households is important,” Ruth Swissa Kline, clinical director for Bridges to Change, in Fort Lauderdale, told EyesOnNews. “As a recently divorced mother of two, I’m fortunate not to need the financial help offered by the food stamp program.”