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The recent diary by l3em0n, Eating on $5 a Day, the Food Stamp "Entitlement", drew high interest with more than 300 comments and at least 130 recs. It's clear that many members of the Daily Kos community have experience eating on a very low budget, whether with or without food stamps.

It's also clear from my readings over the last two years that many kossacks continue to struggle financially, whether due to job loss, illness or disability, or other change in fortunes. Indeed, use of food stamps has increased 77% from 2007 to 2012. Some may qualify for SNAP, popularly known as food stamps, and not know it. I can't find my source again, but a few weeks ago I read that millions more can qualify for food assistance but have not applied.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) helps feed more than 46 million people in America each month. The financial benefit is intended to supplement household income, as the name implies. Households are expected to contribute 30% of their income to their food budget.

In 2012 the average benefit per person was $133.42, or $4.45 per day. Depending on other resources available, this might be "enough" or it may be nowhere near enough to cover costs. So while it is not much, if you are hungry it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Do you qualify?


Eligibility depends on personal financial factors as well as state of residence. Factors include resources, income, "deductions", employment requirements, age or disability, and immigration status.

For resources, the application will look at assets. Cars are treated differently depending on state.

Households may have $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account, or $3250 in countable resources if at least one person is age 60 or older, or is disabled.  However, certain resources are NOT counted, such as a home and lot, the resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the resources of people who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly AFDC), and most retirement (pension) plans.
Income is determined by household "gross" and "net" income, and the number of members of the household. For example, for a household with one member must have gross income less than $1,211. Deductions are made against that to determine net income. These are not tax deductions, but include things like dependent care or medical costs, and costs of shelter.
Excess shelter costs that are more than half of the household's income after the other deductions. Allowable costs include the cost of fuel to heat and cook with, electricity, water, the basic fee for one telephone, rent or mortgage payments and taxes on the home.
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EDIT: Thanks to Mr Robert in comments for adding this link to a prescreening tool. It takes a few minutes but can help determine if you may be eligible. It is NOT an application. Each state has their own application process.
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How much can you get? The maximum allotment for a one-person household is $200 per month.
The amount of benefits the household gets is called an allotment. The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household's allotment. This is because SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.
Please see the USDA's pages on eligibility for more information.

Many who use SNAP benefits still need to supplement their food budget using food pantries, free meals (soup kitchens), and the like. Lack of resources (kitchen space, available groceries, especially discount groceries and farmers' markets, knowledge of nutritional cooking) further limits ability to eat a healthy diet on a low income. However, it is a benefit available and can be accessed if you need and qualify for the help.

Here are FAQs from the USDA that may help answer some of your questions.

Some states have online applications. You can find them through the link.

Hunger in America exists for over 50 million people. That is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population, including more than 1 in 5 children. This group exists to raise awareness of the complexities of the issue, to consider solutions, and to advocate for change.

Originally posted to Hunger in America on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 10:23 AM PST.

Also republished by Jim & Melanie in IA.

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