What to Do if You've Lost Food Stamp Eligibility

by Emma Newbery | Updated June 28, 2022 - First published on July 28, 2020

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A man cooking pasta in his kitchen at home.

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If you are one of the 20% of Americans experiencing food insecurity, here are some tips and support.

Food benefits are a lifeline for many low-income families -- even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. One in five people are estimated to be food insecure at the moment, so if you're finding it difficult to put food on the table, you are not alone.

What is SNAP?

Food stamps are known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and give households credits to spend on groceries via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

During the novel coronavirus crisis, many states have waived some of the usual eligibility requirements and boosted total benefits. However, as states reach the end of their health emergency periods, some of those waivers will cease to apply. Read on to find out what you can do if you lose your SNAP benefits.

Who is eligible for SNAP?

Eligibility requirements vary from state to state, but in general, you need to earn no more than 130% of the federal poverty level, and have less than $2,500 in assets in your bank account. You may also be limited to only three months of food stamps within a three-year period unless you are working or training for at least 20 hours a week. It is this requirement that most states have waived during the pandemic.

If you are undocumented or have lived in the U.S. for less than five years, you will also be ineligible for SNAP benefits.

What to do if you aren't eligible

If you are not eligible -- or are no longer eligible -- for SNAP, don't stress. There are other support programs available with more relaxed requirements. For example, you don't have to be unemployed to visit a food bank.

Alternatives to SNAP

  • Food banks: Food banks are the hubs that operate food pantries and soup kitchens across America. Search online to find services near you. Food banks generally have fewer eligibility restrictions than SNAP, but you might want to phone ahead to make sure they are open and ask what support they offer. Don't be afraid to use more than one food bank, and make sure you get there early.
  • Farmers to Families Food Box Program: The USDA launched a new food box program in response to COVID-19, paying food producers who would normally supply the restaurant industry to send boxes of food to families in need. There are no income requirements and 5.1 million boxes of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat are due to be sent out in July and August. Find out what NGOs or food banks in your area are distributing them.
  • P-EBT: Parents of children who would normally receive school meals are entitled to claim additional benefits while schools are closed. This program operates on a state-by-state basis, and a lot of the money has already been given out. But it's worth finding out if you can still apply in your state.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have children under the age of five, you may be able to receive nutritional foods such as cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy, produce, or canned fish.
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP): If you are over 60, you may be eligible for USDA food supplements.

Don't be afraid to apply for help, even if you aren't sure if you are eligible. Dial 2-1-1 to find out about programs in your state or other help you might qualify for.

Budget meals

With or without SNAP benefits, the further you can stretch your food budget, the better. Many SNAP recipients struggle to make their benefits last beyond the middle of the month, which is unsurprising since SNAP benefits average $1.40 per person per meal.

  • Make a meal plan: Meal plans help you buy only what you need, and cut down on food waste. Plan to use ingredients like eggs that are high in protein and cheaper than meat or cheese. Canned tuna, potatoes, and pasta can all make relatively inexpensive meal options. You don't need lots of kitchen equipment to throw together a basic pasta dish, and if you don't have a stove, you can cook eggs and potatoes in the microwave.
  • Freeze more food: A lot of stores will offer sales on things like meat, bread, and produce that's about to expire. To save on groceries, you can buy these and many other foods at a discount, then freeze them (raw or cooked) to use later. You can also usually freeze leftovers instead of throwing them away.
  • Food coupons: Search online or check your local newspaper for coupons. There are some great deals out there, but don't let them lead you to buy items you don't actually need.
  • Look out for sale items in the supermarket: As with food coupons, sale items will only save you money if you would have bought them anyway. Shop for store-brand products, and watch out for offers on non-perishable items.
  • Check out your local farmers market: Farmers markets can be more expensive than grocery stores, but if you stick to seasonal produce and go at the end of the day, you'll often save money.

Why might my food benefits change?

In December 2019, the USDA announced that the SNAP program would change in April 2020. Right now, states have a lot of leeway when it comes to waiving eligibility requirements, but the new rule would make it more difficult for individual states to avoid the 20-hour-per-week work rule. An estimated 668,000 people would have lost their benefits.

However -- in part due to the COVID-19 crisis -- on March 13, a federal judge blocked the change. The USDA announced it would appeal the decision, but right now, as the nation grapples with the double whammy of a pandemic and recession, the rules remain as they are.

In fact, many people are calling for the SNAP program to be expanded rather than cut back. The proposed HEROES Act is unlikely to pass Congress, but there is a chance that some of the measures -- such as extending P-EBT benefits and increasing SNAP benefits by 15% -- might make it into the second stimulus package.

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