Published in: Banks | July 28, 2020
By: Emma Newbery
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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