It may be something that you thought was totally unthinkable a few short weeks ago, but the reality of the coronavirus pandemic is facing everyone right now, and for some it is both a health and a financial nightmare. If you recently lost your job, are not getting any unemployment compensation, haven’t received any stimulus check yet, or have no emergency funds to back you and your family up, you may now need and qualify to get food stamps.
The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” and Food Stamps
In general, people usually need to meet some kind of work requirement to be eligible for SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps), but those rules under the new pandemic guidelines are now in suspension so that losing your job and not being able to find work right now will not disqualify you.
The new Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides waivers and modifications of the federal nutrition programs among other measures. Specifically, this bill includes an expansion of the SNAP food security program and the WIC programs for women, children, seniors and more.
What Is SNAP?
Formerly known as “food stamps”, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that helps Americans have food for their families. Over 9.5 million American families were on SNAP before the virus struck. SNAP is the largest program in the United States designed to target hunger, and right now that number is growing.
SNAP helps ensure that the most at-risk families have their basic nutritional needs met during times of financial hardship. It predominantly serves households that have family members who are elderly and disabled, but almost half of all SNAP participants are children. SNAP is administered through an EBT debit card instead of paper coupons like it was in the past. It is administered by the individual 50 state agencies and territories of the U.S. where you live.
What Are Some of the Rules?
Run by the states, the federal government actually pays for SNAP benefits. SNAP’s guidelines are limited to people with gross incomes up to 130% of the federal poverty level (that currently translates to $31,596 for a family of four) and everyone who lives together and purchases and prepares meals together is grouped together as one SNAP household. Children under the age of 22 are included in the same SNAP household.
Those who are age 60 and older, who are unable to purchase and prepare meals separately because of a permanent disability, may be labeled as their own SNAP household from their spouse.
Even individuals without dependents or a disability can only receive three months of SNAP benefits during any three-year period if they are not working a minimum of 20 hours a week or participating in a job training program. But the bill makes an exemption to that policy now.
Get the Healthy Foods You Need Right Now
SNAP participants can buy any kind of food for their household members, including fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, and fish; dairy products; breads and cereals; snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages; and seeds and plants that produce food that the eligible household can eat. You can’t buy alcohol or tobacco products. Vitamins, medicine, and other supplements are also not allowed under the rules.
The key is that “fresh” foods as prepared foods and other to-go foods are usually ineligible for SNAP.
How Much Money Can You Actually Receive?
The U.S. government calculates how much you can receive in SNAP benefits. They estimate how much it costs to buy food to prepare low-cost, healthy meals for your household and it changes every year to keep pace with inflation to ensure you can purchase nutritious foods.
The potential benefits range from a maximum of $194/month for an individual to as much as $1,164 for a family of eight (and an additional person $146 each for any additional family members too).
To determine your eligibility, you must qualify by the resources you actually own (with some exclusions). Currently, households may have $2,250 in countable resources (such as cash or money in a bank account) or $3,500 in countable resources if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or is disabled. These amounts are updated annually.
However, certain resources are not counted when determining eligibility for SNAP and are excluded. They are:
- Your home and lot
- Income from Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Income from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF for welfare)
- Income from most retirement and pension plans (withdrawals from these accounts may count as either income or resources depending on how often they occur)
How Do You Apply?
You must apply for SNAP in the state where you currently live. Because each state has a different application form and process, a member of your household must contact your state agency directly to apply.
You can contact your state agency by visiting your local SNAP office, visiting your state agency’s website, or calling your state’s toll-free SNAP information hotline. Some states have online applications that can be completed from the state agency website.
Check out your specific state info right here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory
Or you can go directly to the SNAP Toll Free Information Number at 1-800-221-5689.
What has happened here during the past few months with the coronavirus isn’t something that you think will ever happen as it is truly a once-in-a-generation event with the last tragic one occurring over 100 years ago.
While it’s never shameful or wrong to seek help, it makes even more sense when an event is such a worldwide calamity and jobs suddenly cease and millions are affected in so many ways.
SNAP here in the U.S. is a lifeline for many every day and right now may be yours if you take that step now and get help.
With some good fortune and help from our scientists, the need for you may be short term, and normalcy and your job will return soon. When it does, you will most likely look back at these days and use them as lesson that will teach you the importance of planning for any contingency and saving for an emergency in your future. That’s a lesson that no matter how many times some people hear it, doesn’t always sink in to their brains. Perhaps this time, it will?
Note: If you’re looking for help with food, also check out our post on Places That Help with Food During the Coronavirus Pandemic.