With the United State economy posting record levels of employment no seen since the great recession began in 2008, politicians in Washington and Capitol Hill have been looking at the federal government’s spending and trying to roll back most of the increased spending that was approved to deal with the unprecedented recession that the country experienced. Naturally, the programs that got the most increase are the ones that are targeted the most. The two programs that were drastically increased were Food Stamps (SNAP Benefits) and Unemployment Benefits. Not only were these two programs increased in terms of spending but the rules were also relaxed to deal with how long it was taking people to return to the workforce or find a job and how much government they needed to survive until they got back to their feet. For example, the amount of time people could stay on unemployment got extended several times by congress because of how many people were without work and were struggling finding a job. Now that unemployment is close to 5% at the national level, with some states experiencing unemployment rates under 5%, congress is looking at rolling back some of those benefit extensions to save money and trip the federal budget.
Food stamps have also been impacted by this. In most states, legislatures are eager to show they are trimming spending, especially in this election year and one program that gets the most heat from politicians is food stamps. That’s because there is this perception out there that people on food stamps are trying to live off the government for free and therefore there should be cuts to get people to work. That’s even in the face of overwhelming evidence that these cuts negatively impact the most vulnerable people in society, including households with children. That has not stopped politicians from trying to use the program as some sort of scapegoat. One of the issues at stake is how the food stamp receiving population swelled tremendously during the great recession. That’s because work rules were relaxed so people who were able bodied were allowed to receive benefits due to the unprecedented nature of the recession. Now that there is work to be had, politicians are trying to kick able bodied people from receiving food stamps or cutting how long they could receive the benefits for. The question is whether people will go hungry that really need the help. For example there is a whole group of people whose jobs have left the country and there is no way of getting those jobs back. These people just don’t have the skills for today’s workforce. What will happen to them? They need job training and support while they acquire new skills for new careers. Kicking them off food stamps will literally cause the bottom to fall underneath them.
What are the requirements to qualify for food stamps? There are several requirements that anyone thinking of applying for SNAP benefits must meet. The first and obvious one is the income requirement. This is based on a households gross monthly income and net monthly income after you deduct allowable expenses from the gross income. Most households must comply with this requirement and details of that can be found here. There are certain exemptions to the income requirement. If you have a household that has anyone receiving TANF or any other cash assistance from the government, then the requirements changes. You should contact your states food stamps management department for more details about the various exemptions to the income requirements. For example in the state of California, the Calfresh program, which is their food stamps program has the following requirements for income as outlined in the table below:
As you can see, the income requirements increases with the number of people in the household. The more people you have at home, the more they expect more people in the house to work, unless you have a house full of children, and even there, they expect the parents to be working to meet the minimum income requirements for that household. In addition to the income requirements, there are other criteria you have to meet in order to qualify. The first is that you have to be a US citizen. Certain immigrants may qualify but that depends on how long you’ve been in the United States and what category of immigrant you fall into. Refugees and other vulnerable immigrants are generally able to qualify if they meet other requirement.
You also have to live in the state where you are applying. For example of you are applying in Tennessee, not only do you have to meet their income limit but also have to be a resident of the state. Your best bet is to also apply in the county where you live. That way, you are able to get the most attentive help from your local county food stamps office. Click on your state and then you will be directed to the state page where you can search by county for your local office.
Once you meet the income requirement, you should apply. Most states have a way to apply online or you can go to your county office to apply. Once your application is submitted and reviewed, you will be invited for an interview. During the interview, you will be asked to conform any information you provided during the application process. You will also be given the opportunity to bring any documents that was missing from your application. Once you successfully go through the interview and are approved, you will be issued an EBT Card which you will use to buy food from the approved list. Food stamp fraud is real so pay attention to what you buy with your card as the federal government has gotten very aggressive in arresting people who commit food stamps fraud or use their card for something that it was not intended for.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP Benefits) is a program run by the United States Department of Agriculture to provide nutrition assistance to low income household. This is to help them purchase nutritious foods that they would not otherwise be able to buy due to limited household income. The program is popularly called Food Stamps. Once a household is approved for the program, they are issued a debit card called an EBT card, which can be used to buy food that is on the approved list. The SNAP benefits program is run at the state level but funded at the federal level. The federal government sets the broader guidelines for the program and states have to administer the program with these minimum standards set at the federal level but can add additional criteria specific to their states.
SNAP Benefits Fraud Video
Like many government programs, the food stamps program is a source of fraud and not a week goes by without a group of people getting arrested in one state or another and charged with food assistance fraud and YouTube is littered with videos of people that have been arrested and prosecuted for illegally using food support money. There are several ways this fraudulent activity happens. The first method is where people with Georgia EBT cards conspire with retailers to trade their funds for cash. They will swipe their entire balance at the store as if they are purchasing approved foods, then the retailer will give them cash instead – but it will be less than the value on the card. This way, the retailer pockets the difference and the cardholder gets cash to buy whatever they want.
Another method by which this kind of fraud happens is where retailers allow people to buy food that is not on the approved list. According to the USDA, these are the approved food items for EBT purchases:
Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:
- Foods for the household to eat, such as:
- breads and cereals;
- fruits and vegetables;
- meats, fish and poultry; and
- dairy products.
- Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.
In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals, especially those on social security benefits.
As you can see, the focus is on nutritious foods. But those who want to buy processed or cooked food are able to get around these limits my conspiring with retailers to get what they want at the expense of the tax payers whose aim for this program is to help households in need by the basic foods they need to be able to live a healthy lifestyle. But usually, some people who get these benefits want to use the money to buy unhealthy food, drugs and alcohol. The federal government is serious about catching these people and as you can see from the videos above, a lot of people are caught and sent to prison for a very long time for committing SNAP benefits fraud. Watch the video and pay attention to what they are being charged with.
Food stamps have been on the chopping block since the great recession started. Every time politicians have their back against the wall, they turn to food stamps, otherwise known as SNAP benefits to serve on the chopping block. The cuts have been so bad that even retail giant Walmart is affected and reporting lower sales as a result.
But what is behind all these cuts? The first is that there is this perception that Food Stamps Benefits are only going to people who do not want to work. But the data available shows otherwise. Actually majority of people on food stamps have jobs and work at least part time. The problem is that they don’t make enough to cover even the basic needs like Food, that is why they need the help of the federal government to help them with basic nutritional needs.
As the video above from CNN shows, the cuts have been devastated, including school lunch program that were available for poorer children, who number 22 million. In all, there are 47 million americans who are going to be affected, including 9 million seniors and those on disability benefits. And even though the politicians talk about cutting waste, they are actually impacting real families who need the SNAP Benefits Program the most.
The effects of these changes is that states with a large percentage of their population under food stamps, like Oregon, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are seeing record number of people go hungry, including a large number of households with children.