The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service provides multiple types of assistance in purchasing food for low-income families, women with infants and children, schoolchildren and the elderly. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is just one type of grocery benefit available to eligible individuals and families.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
The primary method of food assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), allows low-income households to receive benefits on an electronic benefits card. This card can be used at participating grocery stores and other stores to purchase eligible food products. Paper coupons, or food stamps, ceased to be valid for food benefits in June of 2009, but SNAP EBT cards can be used in their place. SNAP benefits are administered at the state and local level and eligible households can apply for benefits at their local SNAP office. SNAP benefits may also be issued to recipients of disaster assistance following a natural disaster.
Women, Infants and Children
The Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) provides food benefits for pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5 who are determined to be at nutritional risk and meet income guidelines for the WIC program in their state. Participants receive checks or EBT cards to purchase specific foods each month or receive specific nutritional food directly from the state agency. The WIC program also offers a Farmer's Market Nutrition Program which gives WIC participants coupons that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating farmer's markets.
The National School Lunch Program provides low-cost or free lunches to low-income children. These meals include lunches during the school year, lunches and breakfasts over the summer and school breakfasts at low or no cost. These meals are administered directly by the states and local school boards with federal assistance. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program provides fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost to the students at low-income elementary schools, and the Special Milk Program provides milk to schools that are not otherwise participating in other Federal meal programs.
Senior Farmer's Market Nutrition Program
The Senior Farmer's Market Nutrition Program works much like the WIC Farmer's Market Nutrition Program. It enables state governments to distribute coupons to low-income seniors that can be used to purchase eligible foods at participating farmer's markets and community supported agriculture programs. These coupons are issued only during the harvest season and their availability varies by state. These coupons are meant to improve the nutritional quality of food for low-income seniors as well as supporting local agriculture.