Food assistance programs, including supplemental nutrition assistance, free school lunches, discounted school meals and supplemental assistance for woman and infant children, are federal programs administered by each state. Each program has different income requirements for eligibility that are based upon the federal poverty level. These programs are sometimes called food stamps, even though they now are administered electronically.
Federal Poverty Level
Each year, the federal government establishes income levels below which a person or family is classified as living in poverty. As of 2012, an individual making less than $11,170 per year is classified as living in poverty. For every additional person in the family, the poverty level is raised by $3,960. For example, a family of four is classified as living in poverty if it makes less than $23,050 per year. These numbers are adjusted based upon inflation and cost of living each year.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides financial assistance for food. Each state establishes its own guidelines for assistance; some give families a debit card, for example. Assistance amounts vary based upon family needs and income. As of 2012, families making 165 percent of the federal poverty level or less are eligible for SNAP. To determine your eligibility, multiply the poverty level for your family size by 1.65. If your income is less than this number, you are eligible.
Pregnant and lactating women, as well as people with children under five, are eligible for the Supplemental Assistance for Women and Infant Children program, which provides financial support for food and formula, breast-feeding assistance, nutritional training and other health information programs. To be eligible for this program, you must make no more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level. To determine your eligibility, multiply the poverty level for your family size by 1.85. If your annual income is less than this number, you are eligible.
School Lunch Eligibility
The federal government funds free lunch programs for impoverished children, as well as discounted lunch programs for children who do not qualify for free lunches but whose parents make little money. To be eligible for free lunches, you must make 130 percent of the poverty level or less. Multiply the poverty level for your family size by 1.30. If your income is less than this amount, you are eligible. If you make greater than this number but less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level -- the poverty level multiplied by 1.85 -- your child will be eligible for discounted school lunches. School lunch programs provide healthy breakfasts and lunches to eligible children.
- University of New Mexico Extension: Poverty Income Guidelines (2012)
- Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Family and Children Services: Food Stamps
- Social Security Administration: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Facts
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Poverty Guidelines.” Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
- U.S Department of Health and Human Services. "Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "SNAP Special Rules for the Elderly or Disabled." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
- U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. "Federal Poverty Level (FPL)." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
- HealthCare.gov. “How To Save On Your Monthly Insurance Bill With A Premium Tax Credit.” Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Poverty Guidelines and Poverty.” Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
- University of Virginia, Miller Center. “Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union Address, Jan. 8, 1964.” Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.