The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - formerly the federal Food Stamp Program) is one of the most utilized social welfare programs in the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that 40.3 million Americans relied on SNAP in fiscal year 2010. Recipients purchase food using a government provided and funded Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT). The card works like a debit card and removes the need for paper food stamps. Strict federal guidelines determine who qualifies for SNAP.
American citizens and some lawfully present noncitizens are eligible for SNAP. Just because a person is eligible doesn't mean he'll receive approval for the program. An eligible person must live in a household that has no more than $2,000 worth of countable resources, such as money in a bank or savings account. The limitation is $3,000 if an elderly or disabled person lives in the household. Total monthly income before taxes must fall at least 130 percent below the federal poverty guidelines. Total monthly income after taxes must fall at least 100 percent below federal poverty guidelines. The poverty guidelines are updated annually. Able-bodied adults must have a legitimate source of income, including unemployment benefits. All members of the household also must provide a valid Social Security number. A homeless person or person receiving welfare might have eligibility, as well.
A non-U.S. citizen must meet several additional requirements before SNAP consideration. A non-U.S. citizens that has a green card, is a parolee in the United States, granted asylum or has deportation withheld is eligible for the program. Refugees, battered non-citizens, trafficking victims and American Indians born in Canada that live in the U.S. are considered, as well. Battered non-citizens, green card holders and parolees must meet one of the following additional requirements: been in the U.S. legally for at least five years, blind or disabled, elderly, an active military member or be honorably discharged from the military.
SNAP is funded by the U.S. government, which provides funds to each state to run its own food stamp program. Applicants must complete a food stamp application for their state program. SNAP applications are generally available in state food stamp, human resources, Social Security, unemployment and welfare offices. SNAP applications are available online for some states, such as Alaska and Colorado. To complete an application, applicants need proof of the following: income, identification, utility costs, rent or mortgage payments and medical bills for the elderly or disabled.
Food stamps began as a social experiment in May of 1939. Mabel McFiggin, an unemployed factory worker, was the first person to participate in the program. Originally, participants had to buy orange food stamps in order to receive free blue stamps. The orange stamps could purchase any type of food, but the blue stamps were for specific food items. Approximately 20 million people participated in the original program, which ceased in 1943 after people became stable enough to quit the program.
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images