Want to know how to be eligible for food stamps?

Learn how to get on food stamps

Everyone knows that the economy is in sad shape. Jobs that pay enough to make a decent  living for a single person or a family are few and far between, and many people who had good jobs have lost them. Unemployment benefits have run out for many of those who could get them, leaving them and their families in a precarious and potentially dangerous situation.  Other people may have decided that the best way to live during these hard times is to learn to make do with as little income as possible, just enough to pay the bills, by working at home or being employed under the table and getting paid in cash while cutting living expenses to a bare minimum.

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For all these low-income Americans who are living with less, a public assistance program is available that can be a big help. Formerly and still popularly known as food stamps, the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) assistance effort has been around for many years. It has been growing in the last few years since the recession, and it is today one of the most widely-used federal assistance programs. Yet there are many people who should be taking advantage of this USDA-administered program and aren't doing so out of fear or ignorance. But it's easy to apply for SNAP, and with the help of this guide you can learn how to get on food stamps.

The question many potential clients of the program ask before they apply is, how do I know if I qualify for food stamps? While SNAP is a federal program, each state has its own way to apply for it. But because it is federally administered, the rules for the program are the same in every state.

Income guidelines are published and made available on the Internet by the feds and by each state so you can see where you stand depending on the size of your household. The thing to remember is that the guidelines are for maximum gross monthly income to be eligible, and that the more you make under the limit, the less assistance you will get. Income can be earned - from a job or from self-employment - or unearned, like interest from savings or investments or social security or disability payments. 

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You need to report any income on your application. If you are working, you'll have to verify your current income with paystubs or employer statements. If you are self-employed, you'll need to have a recent tax return, or income and expense records, or if it's a new enterprise, a self-written statement about how much you expect to make. If you have unearned income, you'll have to show how much it is and how often you get paid. Unearned income limits for SNAP are slightly lower than earned, so keep that in mind.

Fortunately, resources and assets don't make much of a difference in eligibility. Your vehicles, boats, homes, property, bank accounts, and personal possessions aren;t an issue unless you are getting income from them. The idea is that people with lots of stuff can fall on hard times too, and they should not be denied these benefits based on what they own.

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If you pay rent, pay a mortgage, and/or pay for utilities, you will need to verify those expenses. This is especially important if you have income, as they are deductions that raise your benefit amount substantially - if you have no income, then the expenses won't get you higher benefits. Daycare expenses are also deductions when verified, as are medical expenses out of pocket for disabled and elderly applicants.

So, how much assistance can a person get? There is a maximum, and your benefit amount is prorated down from there depending on your income and expenses. As of this writing, a single person with no income can get $200 per month, 2 people can get $371, and a 3 person household will receive $526, and the amounts go up from there for each additional household member.

A household is anyone who lives together, buys food together, and prepares meals together - you don't have to be related. You can claim to be a separate household even if you are living with someone else if you do not buy and make food together. However, a person 22 years old or under cannot live with his or her parents and get food stamps independently.

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Most states - but not all - have an easy, online application process. You will need birth dates, complete names, and social security numbers for everyone applying. Then you'll have to be interviewed by a caseworker. Depending on the state and the particular bureaucratic culture of the assistance agency of that state, this required interview may be a technicality and short and sweet, or it may be a bit longer depending on your situation, but in most cases it's a simple process: here's what you said on your application, please verify it, and so on. Sign a couple of forms, and you're done.

If you have little or no income or assets, you will qualify for expedited issuance - you'll get the assistance right away. If not, you'll probably have to wait a week or two after you've submitted all the requested verifications to your caseworker to get your EBT card. This a card just like a debit or credit card that you use at any store that accepts it. You can buy any regular food items with your monthly benefits, but no paper products, alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, or hot prepared foods.

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So, whether you are committed to frugal living by necessity or choice, if you need help getting enough food for yourself and your family, SNAP can help. If you are asking, how do I know if I qualify for food stamps, you now should have a good idea of the answer. If you are still not sure, go ahead and apply - there's no penalty, and you can apply as often as you want, and you can file an appeal for a decision you don't agree with. Bon appetite!