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Unemployed or Underemployed? You May Now Qualify for Food Stamps

{ Posted on Oct 29 2010 by Marcus Alston }

In this tough economic time (unemployment around 9.8%), you may have guessed that more and more people are relying on food stamps.  You would be right.  The number of individuals receiving food stamps has reached over a reported 42 million which is the highest number since the program began back in 1939.  However, what you may not know is that more and more states are expanding benefits to needy recipients as the Federal Government continues to provide more funding for this program.  You may qualify and this could help stretch your budget.

The Food Stamp program, officially called the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a U.S. Federal program that provides assistance to low income and zero income people and families living in the United States.  The benefits are distributed and administered by the individual states.  In the 1990s, the actual paper food stamps for recipients were replaced with a plastic card much like a debit card.  The picture above from Flickr is of the old food stamp coupons.

According to Wikipedia, as of June 2009, the average monthly benefit was $133.12 per person and as of late November 2009, 1 in 8 individuals in the U.S. and 1 in 4 children were using food stamps.  The program rate is reportedly growing at 20,000 people a day.

In addition to unemployment causing an increase in participants, more families now qualify for food stamps now that states are expanding eligibility requirements and offering the benefit to more working and moderate income families.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reviewed by The Associated Press shows that 30 states have adopted rules making it easier to qualify for food stamps since 2007.  In total, according to The Associated Press, 38 states have loosened eligibility standards.

For example, in Hawaii, a family of 5 can earn up to $59,328 and still get food stamps.  The previous eligibility limit for such a family in Hawaii was $38,568 a year.  However, before you get overly excited about possibly qualifying in your state, it must be noted that eligibility for food stamps varies state by state, so check your own state’s rules for eligibility.  Each state has a hotline number or you can search the internet for state specific information. The 11 most generous states allow families to apply if their gross income is less than double the federal poverty line of $22,050 for a family of four in the continental U.S. and the District of Columbia (higher in Alaska and Hawaii).  Source: The Associated Press article.

With the Federal Government footing the bill for the program ($50 billion in 2009), most states are happy to take advantage of the program in which they only pay half the administrative costs (and do not pay any of the actual funds being paid to the recipients).  States that have relaxed food stamp eligibility only consider the applicants income and the applicant’s assets such as property, savings, and investments are no longer a factor.  This is a big relief for many where previously assets had to be depleted before you could qualify.   Yet, the program still only reaches moderate and low-income people, so don’t get too excited about possibly receiving $133.12 per person.  Additionally, some states such as New Jersey have refused money from the Federal Government that would increase benefits to recipients.  In New Jersey’s case, they are reportedly turning down $5 million in additional aid which could help 120,000 families!

Despite New Jerseys refusal to take the additional aid, since 2000, according to The Associated Press, the only states that have not enacted lower food stamp eligibility requirements are Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

While being in a position to qualify for this program means one is financially quite needy, it is good to know that the Federal Government recognizes the financial and nutritional benefits to children and adults of the program.  If you are struggling financially, check to see if you qualify for the food stamp program.  If pride is stopping you, call it by its official name if that makes you feel better–Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program.  But for goodness sakes, take advantage of this benefit, especially if you need it.  It is designed to help ease your financial pressure and to put food on the table.  It will be provide much needed nutrition for yourself and your family, and stretch your budget.

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