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December 18th

How To Increase Your Benefits & Get More From Food Stamps

How To Increase Your Benefits & Get More From Food Stamps

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 20 million Americans need food stamps to survive. Unfortunately, food stamps only average out to about $1.40 per person, per meal. Now, let’s be honest — most of us need more than a buck per meal to survive.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to bump the number of food stamps you get up. Let’s take a look at how to increase your food stamp benefits to help you put food on your table.

What Are Food Stamps?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) is a federal program designed to help families extend their food budget and get access to critical nutrition. In short, food stamps provide food assistance to families when times are tough.

The USDA sets the standards for SNAP, but each individual state handles the distribution of benefits. So, there may be some technical differences between each state.

To learn more about state-by-state food benefits, see our following posts:

While SNAP primarily functions as a way to provide nutritional-assistance to families through financial help with groceries and food, there are also some educational components you can take advantage of if you need to. These are found on the SNAP-ed website.

How Does the Government Decide How Much You Get in Food Stamps?

To even be eligible to receive food stamps in the first place, you must meet 3 federal benefits guidelines.

  • Gross Income: To qualify for food stamps, your income (before deductions) has to be 130% below the federal poverty line. In general, this poverty line is smaller for smaller families. So, the more people in your family (usually children), the easier it is to get food stamps. To see the federal poverty guidelines, check out the list on HHS.gov.
  • Net Income: After deductions are applied (more on this next,) you must still be below the poverty line by at least 1%.
  • Assets: To prevent food stamp fraud, the government requires that your assets (e.g., car, home, etc.) must fall below a certain number (in 2019, this number is a little over $2,200.) This number increases if you are disabled.
    These are just the requirements to be eligible. So, how do you increase your benefits?

How to Increase Your Food Stamps Benefits

Food stamps are incredibly useful. Not only can you purchase groceries with them, but you can also purchase fast food, get discount zoo tickets, and even discounts on Amazon Prime! But, when you’re looking at an average of $1.40 per person, food stamps can feel a little… sparse.

Luckily, most families aren’t taking advantage of the maximum number of deductions — giving you some wiggle room to grab more of those tasty food stamps. But, before we jump into deductions, let’s look at how SNAP benefits are calculated.

Step 1: Gross Income

The first thing that SNAP will do is calculate your gross income. This is how much you make before taxes are applied. So, if you make $32,000 per year, your gross income is $32,000 – even if you only see a fraction of that number make it onto your paycheck. This number has to be 130% below the national poverty line to qualify for SNAP.

Step 2: Net Income

The second thing that SNAP will do is calculate your net income. This is your gross income minus taxes and deductions. So, if you make $32,000 a year, but you pay $3,000 in taxes and have a further $5,000 in deductions, SNAP will calculate your net income at $24,000.

Step 3: Expenses

Now, SNAP will deduct your expenses (e.g., childcare, rent, mortgage, etc.) from your net income. This final number is what SNAP will leverage to decide your food stamp allotment.

Step 4: Total Contribution

SNAP expects you to contribute 30% of your income to food. So, if you end up having $1,200 a month after taxes and expenses, SNAP expects you to contribute $360 per month to food. That’s most likely over the maximum allotment for a single person family. So, you may not even get food stamps. But, if you made, say, $300 per month after taxes and expenses, you would only be paying $90 for food, and you would get a food stamp allotment.

Step 5: Food Stamp Calculation

So, the final equation is: Net income – expenses – total contribution = food stamp allotment.

Here’s the secret to getting more food stamps. You HAVE to focus on your deductions and expenses. You can’t easily change your income. You can certainly find expenses and deductions that you haven’t applied to your form. You should include things like:

  • Rent
  • Childcare
  • Child support
  • Standard deduction
  • Utilities
  • Medical bills
  • Property taxes
  • Phone service (you can also get a free phone if you’re struggling)
  • Earnings deduction
  • etc.

ALL of these are deductions that almost everyone has. Even if you’re homeless, you can use a homeless shelter reduction. Always talk to the people at your local government assistance office about expenses and deductions. Failing to claim a few of these can quickly cut into your food stamp budget. And, making the right claims on these can help you hit the maximum for food stamps.

Food Stamp FAQs

How do I apply for food stamps?

You can apply online for your state (full list here) and in-person at a local office.

More common questions

  • Can I get food stamps if I live with someone?
  • Can I get food stamps if I live with my parents
  • Can I get food stamps if I live with my boyfriend
  • Can I apply for food stamps while living with my parents
  • Can I get food stamps if I live with my mom

Is a resounding yes. Well, at least most of the time it is. Your boyfriend’s income does not count against you when applying for food stamps. And, your parent’s income only counts against you if you are over the age of 22. However, if you are in that “over 22 and living with your parents” category, their income will be blended with yours when your local government assistance office decides on your food stamp eligibility. You may be wondering, “Here’s a tip. Tell the office that you eat separately and prepare food separately from your parents.

Can I get food stamps if I don’t pay rent?

Maybe. If you don’t pay rent because you’re homeless, then you will likely qualify for food stamps. However, if you don’t pay rent because you’re part of a government rent assistance program, that may lower (or even disqualify) your food stamp benefits. Most SNAP programs will ask for a proof of rent letter for food stamps. So, you’ll need to explain your situation.

Remember, the answer to “can you get food stamps if you’re homeless?” is always yes.

Why are my food stamps not on my card?

If you’ve ever woked up in the morning and thought, “my snap benefits are not on my card; why is that?” You’re not alone. There are a few reasons that this happens. For starters, it could simply be an outage. The SNAP system goes down occasionally and causes delays in distribution. Alternatively, you may no longer qualify for food stamps, or your case could be held up due to specific issues. You should call your local SNAP assistance office to get more information.

I didn’t get my food stamps this month; what gives?

If you’re wondering why, “I didn’t get my snap benefits this month!”, there are a few reasons that this can happen.

  • You no longer qualify for food stamps due to recent SNAP changes.
  • There is a government or SNAP outage.
  • You need to renew your SNAP assistance.

It can be scary to wake up and realize, “I didn’t get my food stamps this month.” But don’t panic yet. Call your local government assistance office and see if there is an outage or if your paperwork is being held up.

Does a car payment affect food stamps?

Maybe. Food stamps take “countable resources” into their decision. Technically, cars are “countable resources.” However, SNAP has made it so that each state creates its own ruling on cars. Some states count them, and others don’t. That being said, the government has made it to where (even if your state does count cars as a “countable resource”), you can exclude your car if it is worth under $4,650. This only works for one vehicle per household.

Do I have to claim my boyfriend’s income for food stamps?

Nope! You only have to claim them if you get married. Otherwise, you can both say that you eat and prepare food separately, and you may both qualify. You may also be wondering, “Can I still get food stamps household roommates?” Yes! Just make sure to say you eat separately at your government assistance office.

What bills count for food stamps?

When SNAP calculates your income, they remove “necessity” expenses like childcare, housing, and medical bills out of your total monthly income as a deduction. So, if you make $3,000, but you pay $1,000 for rent, $300 for childcare, and $500 for medical bills, they will deduct those from that $3,000.

Here are some of the bills that count as deductibles under SNAP:

  • Rent
  • Mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Childcare (e.g., Daycare, diapers, etc.)
  • Medical bills
  • Prescription drugs
  • Home repairs
  • etc.

Do food stamps roll over to the next month?

Yes! Your food stamp benefits will roll over into the next month if you don’t use them. However, your card will be disabled, and your funds will be removed if you don’t utilize your SNAP benefits for over a year.

What can I buy with food stamps?

One of the first questions that people have, when they get food stamps, is what they’re allowed to buy. You may be at the grocery store wondering, “can I buy coconut oil with food stamps?” Here is a list of things you can buy with food stamps.

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Meats
  • Dairy
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Snack foods
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • Seeds
  • Plants
  • Cooking sprays
  • etc.

In fact, so many things are eligible for food stamps, that it’s easier to talk about what’s not eligible. Things like diapers, toothpaste, tobacco, alcohol, soap, and pet food do not count as “food.” So, you can’t use your card to buy them.

Does a car payment increase food stamps?

It might. It depends on how much it lowers your income as a deduction.

Does CalFresh rollover?

Like all other states, CalFresh benefits roll over into the next month. The answer to “do snap benefits roll over?” is always a resounding yes.

Can I get food stamps if I don’t have a job?

Yes! But only for 3 months every 3 years. You have to be working or in a work program to be eligible for food stamps. However, if you’re wondering, “that doesn’t make sense, then how much food stamps does a homeless person get?” don’t worry. Homeless people are under an exception rule, and they are still eligible for food stamps. But, if you have a home and no job, you are only eligible for 3 months unless you’re in a program to help you find a job.

Also, remember that there is additional help available to those who have been recently fired.

What are considered utilities for food stamps?

The following are considered utilities when it comes to SNAP.

  • Water
  • Electric
  • Phone service
  • Garbage
  • Gas
  • Sewer

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