What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?

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SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the US Department of Agriculture-administrated program, which replaced the Food Stamp Program. SNAP was formed in 2008 and it has some differences from its predecessor. It uses approximately the same measurements to qualify people, ordinarily meaning that salary, number of family members, and any other source of income are considered to determine eligibility, but it is more updated in other respects. The program has more emphasis on healthy food choice education, which is partially funded through block grants provided by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and instead of giving out “food stamps,” it loads a debit card with a determined purchase amount, which can be used at many qualifying stores, or sometimes at locations like farmer’s markets.

There are several ways people can apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They can apply locally at a SNAP office or in some cases, online. After an application is submitted, applicants will meet with a worker, usually within about two weeks, and a determination on whether the person can take part in the program is typically arrived at within 30 days. SNAP is principally for citizens or legal residents who make no more than 165% of the poverty limit, though the determination is more complex and may reduce income if certain factors, like single parenthood or homelessness are issues. The actual maximum qualifying income for the program changes based on federal estimations of the poverty level and family size.


The basic goal of SNAP, and other programs like the federal free and reduced price lunch program or WIC (women, infants and children) is to reduce the problem of food insecurity in low income households. Food security can be defined as having access to nutritional foods at all times. A household becomes food insecure when access is abridged in some manner, and may be evidenced by things like running out of food, skipping meals, or serving less food than is wanted or needed because supplies are low. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aims to end food insecurity, but reports by the USDA show that it doesn’t fully accomplish its goal. Many people on public food assistance continue to be food insecure and rely on other sources of help like food pantries or food kitchens to meet nutritional needs.

Part of the goal in providing education to SNAP recipients is to help people think about how to smartly spend their debit allowance and how to plan satisfying, healthy meals on a budget. The government’s passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act may chip away at this goal. It requires states to spend more funds to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education, and this could mean some programs are cut short. The USDA does have a user friendly website with lots of education resources for families receiving food assistance, but not all families in this income group have consistent access to the Internet.


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