There are many ways to get food assistance for your family.
It’s a sad reality that many people who live in the United States struggle with food insecurity. They may not know where their next meal will come from or how they’ll pay for it. If you are one of these people, there are many options to help you get food for your family! These include SNAP, WIC, and other government programs.
The Center on Budget Policy and Priorities is stating that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in many American families going without food. They found out from sources like the United States Census Bureau’s new experimental Weekly Household Pulse Survey, which states 10.8% of adults have reported not getting enough to eat within a week period for this time frame.
According to data collected by CBPP (Center on Budget Policy and Priorities), there’s been an uptick in hardship among households due largely as a result of late-stage COVID-19 infections across America with 11 million Americans impacted so far or about 1/3rd of the U.S population – according to their calculations based off recent survey results.
One in five adults reported their children are often or sometimes not getting enough to eat. This means an estimated 8-15 million kids live with parents who can’t afford food for them, which puts a family at risk of poverty and hunger if the parent is unemployed.
1 out of every 5 households where there’s a child between 10% and 19 years old has had times over the past week when they didn’t have enough money to buy groceries that would be considered adequate amounts by federal standards; this equates to about 1 in 3 children living below these thresholds on any given day without income sources other than SNAP benefits (i.e., no unemployment checks).
The nation is struggling to keep food on the table. So what do you do when you’ve tried every strategy but still can’t make ends meet? That’s when it’s time to ask for help because nobody should have to go hungry in this country of plenty!
You are not alone in your struggle to find food. Many state and local agencies, charities, and religious organizations can provide you with free or low-cost food when needed. Additionally, they may also be able to help you financially by providing assistance so that the groceries will cost less for you at the store.
Apply for SNAP Benefits; It’s the First Step Toward Getting Food Assistance
SNAP is a collaboration between the federal government and individual states. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds it, but each state has its own eligibility and enrollment rules for those who qualify as well.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a much-needed program that feeds 38 million Americans who rely on it for sustenance, or 12% of the population. Nationally, 43% of these families are employed and 67% have children; this means they need SNAP to keep their family in good health while earning an income.
The government uses the USDA Thrifty Food Plan to calculate SNAP benefits. The plan estimates how much it costs a family of four (two adults and two children) to maintain a healthy diet for each week, with monthly updates reflecting food price fluctuations. As of July 2020, the weekly minimum is $156.10!
You are eligible to apply for SNAP benefits if you meet the following requirements:
- You have less than $2,000 in combined income and assets.
- Your gross monthly income is at or below 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL).
If your state has a higher FPL requirement, then that number will be used instead.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, don’t hesitate! Apply for SNAP benefits today with the handy eligibility checker at Benefits.gov or by visiting your local office and filling out a form in person.
States require you to complete an eligibility interview once you send in your application. You can participate over the phone, but most states prefer that interviews be done in person. It takes 30 days for a state agency to process and determine if someone is eligible or not; however, those who need money immediately might receive benefits within as few as seven days with less than $100 of liquid assets and monthly gross income under $150 per month.
A SNAP card is a debit-like payment system that provides families with food. This card, when swiped at participating retailers and farmers’ markets will automatically deduct the correct amount of money for your purchase, eliminating any hassle or cash exchange between you and the retailer so long as they have accepted credit cards on their premises.
States distribute these benefits monthly through an automated process; look up when to expect them by going online via USDA’s State Directory of Resourceshttps://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory.
Applying for SNAP
The process of qualifying for SNAP is a complicated one, and the rules differ from state to state. In general, though, applicants have to meet several requirements in order to qualify such as proving they are going through hard times or even providing identification on top of other necessary forms.
Citizenship: You must be a US citizen or legal immigrant. Legal immigrants may have to meet extra criteria though.
Employment: Nondisabled adults without dependents typically can only apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if they are already employed or show a willingness to work. Anyone with children can apply. There are work or school requirements, each state is different.
There are some exceptions to the rule that those who receive unemployment benefits must be actively looking for work. For instance, senior citizens and pregnant women may not need to look for or accept suitable employment in order to receive SNAP benefits.
Assets: To be eligible for SNAP, a household can have no more than $2,250 in their bank account or countable resources (such as cash) and/or vehicles. This number increases to $3,500 if at least one person is disabled or over the age of 60.
Some resources that don’t count towards your limit include the value of your home if you own one and money in most types of retirement plans. In some states, the value of cars doesn’t count when needed for work reasons.
Previous government programs that provide support for financially needy families or the disabled are exempt from this limit. TANF is a program to help children and their caregivers who need financial assistance, while SSI aids people with disabilities.
Income: Most households applying for SNAP have to meet income thresholds:
Your gross income is all the money earned by everyone in your household. However, in some states, if any person over age 60 or disabled lives with you, then you do not have to meet this requirement.
Your net income is your gross income minus an allowance for certain necessary expenses. These include child care costs, some medical expenses, and any housing costs that exceed half your after other deductions. In some states, you can also deduct legally required child support payments.
Remember, every state will have its own set of requirements, this is just to give you an idea of what it is like to apply.
Some documents you may need include:
- Your driver’s license or state identification card
- Your birth certificate
- Pay stubs (1-2 months worth) from your job and the jobs of others living in your household
- Bank statements
- Letters documenting any cash payments you regularly receive, such as Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs benefits, unemployment payments, child support, alimony, or retirement benefits
- Bills or records of payment for your apartment rental or mortgage, utilities like gas and electricity, day care or child support, and medical bills
- Proof of address, such as your lease, rental agreement, or utility bill
- Proof of your immigration status if you’re not a citizen
If you qualify for benefits, contact your local SNAP office to sign up. You’ll find a link to your state program on the USDA state directory along with hotline numbers for each individual state.
There are several ways to get an application form for SNAP. Depending on where you live, these may include:
- Pick it up in person at your local SNAP office
- Call the SNAP office and ask to have a form mailed to you
- Call the SNAP office and ask about other locations where you can pick up forms, such as a public library.
- Print the form from your state’s SNAP website
- Fill out an online application on your state’s SNAP website
- Send in all documents within the time frame, here in Florida weekends count towards this time frame
The next step in the process is to go into a SNAP office for an interview. A worker will be there and they’ll review your application, help you out if needed, and explain program rules that apply. In some states, it’s possible to do this over the phone instead of physically being present at their offices though so keep that in mind as well!
The SNAP worker signs you up for the program if your interview was successful. Your EBT card will be in the mail, loaded with funds to use as a debit card at grocery stores.
If your SNAP application is declined, you can call or visit the office to ask why. If you think there has been a mistake, they will offer a fair hearing within 90 days of being notified in order for them to clear up any issues and help determine eligibility. This generally takes place through phone calls.
How your benefit amount is determined: Using the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, SNAP calculates how much a family can spend on food and still enjoy healthy meals.
The Thrifty Food Plan costs $677 per month, which is the maximum amount that a family of four can get from SNAP. Just an example.
SNAP benefits are designed to help supplement the food budget in cases where an individual or family is unable to pay for all of their groceries. This means that your SNAP benefit amount will depend on your household income, with individuals and families earning more receiving a smaller percentage than those who earn less.
The USDA estimates that a SNAP household should spend about 30% of its income on food. The Thrifty Food Plan is the list of foods and quantities provided by the federal government to determine your benefit amount based upon how much you make in comparison with what they think it takes for each person per week, month, etc.
If your family’s total combined income isn’t enough to cover this cost then SNAP gives them benefits according to their eligibility level so that they can buy groceries at an affordable price and within those guidelines better fit their needs.
Despite having no income, 36% of households would be entitled to the maximum benefit in 2019. However, it is estimated that 60% of SNAP households received $258 per month on average (about half the max for a two-person household).
The USDA temporarily expanded SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021. It granted waivers to states allowing them to increase food benefits for SNAP households that receive less than the maximum benefit, as well as allow families with children who typically get free or discounted school lunches in some circumstances to be given similar assistance.
Fetch Rewards and Ibotta are two apps that help SNAP users get more bang for their buck. To use them, simply scan the barcodes of items you purchased at your grocery store (or type in a few details about an item) to earn points or gift cards redeemable on groceries later!
WIC is the Next Step Towards Food Assistance
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children is a food assistance program that provides nutritional support to pregnant parents as well as infants under the age of five.
The program helps them meet specific dietary guidelines necessary for healthy development by providing access to nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while reducing their intake of saturated fat, sugars, and excess sodium through lean meats or low-fat dairy products.
It provides 50% to 75% of the formula that your baby needs and as they get older they offer other things like low-fat milk, fresh fruits, and vegetables, infant food, beans, eggs, cheese, bread, and peanut butter, etc.
You can get substitutions but will need a doctor’s letter for it, it can change the brand of formula, whole milk, Lactaid even Pediasure can be substituted.
WIC also gives you access to other services, including:
- Health screenings
- Nutrition and breastfeeding counseling
- Immunization screening and referral
- Substance abuse referral
To apply for WIC, the adult needs to have a child in their custody who is under five years old. Grandparents with children, single non-birth parents, and foster families are all eligible as long as they meet the requirements of income level or poverty status.
To be eligible for the WIC program, you must meet both nutritional needs and income requirements.. There are several eligibility requirements WIC will decide whether or not you qualify by looking at nutritional risk factors that may affect both yourself and any children in your household.
WIC is available to families making 100%-185% of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a family of four must earn an annual income below $26,200 in order to be eligible for full benefits.
How to apply for food assistance through WIC:
The WIC program is organized and run by your state’s social services agency. To receive assistance, you must apply for it on their website at USA.gov or call their office directly to use the prescreening tool which will determine whether you are eligible for benefits.
- use the WIC prescreening tool to determine whether you and your family are eligible for benefits.
- Apply online or through your local office
- Bring in all documentation, birth certificates, social security cards, income verification and proof of address
At every visit, your child may be weighed and get their iron levels checked as well as seeing a nutritionist where you can get helpful advice about your child’s nutritional needs.
Food Pantries Offers Food Assistance
A food pantry is a place where people in need of assistance can pick up fresh, canned, and prepackaged foods.
Some food pantries are set up like a grocery store where you can shop for whatever you need. Other food pantries distribute whatever they have, which means that receiving boxes or bags of random foods without the ability to choose what goes into your box.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, there are still food pantries that help feed those in need. Food is available on a first-come basis at most of these locations so it’s helpful to call ahead or go early whenever possible.
Many have experienced overwhelming demand which has caused long lines during times when people really need this support for their families like now due to the pandemic so be patient and give grace.
A food pantry might only serve those receiving SNAP benefits or some other form of state or federal assistance. Sometimes, they provide free food to anyone who asks for it-no questions asked.
As of July 2020, there are over 1,167 Little Free Pantries in the U.S., and you can find a location near you with their interactive map!
Each pantry is run by two homeowners who simply want to help those around them that might be struggling to make ends meet or have an unexpected emergency expense come up.
They provide free food for anyone who needs it without judgment so people don’t feel embarrassed about asking for assistance because they know everyone has been through something like this before at some point in life too.
Soup kitchens serve free or low-cost meals to the homeless and those in need of assistance. Religious groups often run these establishments, which provide a cafeteria setting for complete meal consumption as opposed to food pantries that offer items you can cook at home.
Soup kitchens run by religious organizations tend to be open and accepting of all people, regardless of their beliefs. Most soup kitchens are happy to serve meals without requiring you to listen or read a short doctrine on their mission or belief system first.
To find a local soup kitchen, call your town’s churches and other religious organizations. Large groups are more likely to have the staff and resources needed for community meal services. Your state department of social services can also help you with this search!
School Lunch Program
In 2016, the National School Lunch Program provided 30.4 million children with nutritious food at a low cost or free of charge in public and private schools across America.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally-funded program that provides free and reduced-price breakfast, lunch, milk for students in lower-income families.
The amount of money paid by the federal government varies based on how much one makes per year; if someone falls between 100% to 185% poverty level they receive free or reduced meals through this plan but anything over will require them to pay full price which could be expensive depending upon their family size.
The annual adjustment of the federal poverty level by the Department of Health and Human Services is done to ensure that all 50 states are covered. Alaska and Hawaii may have different levels than 48 contiguous United States, as well as Washington D.C., so it’s important for HHS to update this information annually in order to account for those differences if necessary.
How to apply for free or reduced school meals:
Applying for the NSLP is easy. Visit this website and simply select your state from a drop-down menu, then choose National School Lunch Programhttps://www.fns.usda.gov/contacts/contact-map to get started!
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels is an organization that brings hot meals to seniors who cannot cook for themselves.
Meals on Wheels is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic since many seniors who need food assistance can’t safely leave their homes to visit soup kitchens. In an August 2020 survey, Meals on Wheels reports they’re serving 77% more meals and 47% more seniors than in March 2020.
Meals on Wheels is a wonderful service that helps housebound seniors feed themselves by delivering meals. If you, your parents, or grandparents are over 60 and need food assistance, check out this great organization!
More Food Assistance
Call 211: 2-1-1 is a free and confidential program run by the United Way. Its goal is to help connect people in America with aid programs that meet their specific needs, like food assistance. It receives more than 2 million requests for this kind of support every year!
Dialing 2-1-1 will direct you to a local soup kitchen, where you can fill out an application for SNAP or WIC benefits. To get connected dial 2-1-1 from any phone.
National Hunger Hotline: If you and your family are hungry right now, the National Hunger Hotline can provide you with directions on how to get immediate help. You can call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) and also text 97779 using a keyword such as “food” or “meals’ for nearest locations of resources.
Many people who are entitled to SNAP benefits or other food assistance programs feel uncomfortable about using them.
They’re ashamed they don’t earn enough to feed their families and worry others will see them as lazy, so the lack of clarity around what constitutes “hunger” in America is a serious public health issue that needs immediate attention before it becomes worse than it already has.
There is nothing shameful about accepting a little help when you need it, and the rules for SNAP are strict enough to ensure that people who use it really do need it.
If you think of SNAP and other forms of emergency aid as a sort an insurance program, with all taxpayers putting money into the system just like paying for health insurance. Then those who need help are able to take that money out much like filing a claim after having medical bills done. Therefore someone taking out this year could be making payments in next years taxes and vice versa
Government assistance is the same as an auto insurance payout after a car accident. The government benefits you receive are not shameful, and they should be used to pay for necessities like food just like your insurer would if you were in need of repairs on your vehicle.
The pandemic, has shown us that no one is immune to a financial crisis. People who earn middle-class incomes and hourly wages are lining up for food next to each other in crises.
Whether you’re struggling because of a job loss or reduction in hours, medical emergency, or any of a thousand other reasons and it’s not your fault – there are government programs that can help. There is no shame when asking for assistance since these community resources exist to provide financial support.