What I never knew about food stamps

One of the objectives of the $1000 challenge was to get a better understanding of what poverty really feels like. Some might say that I haven’t gotten the best flavor of that, having gone on business trips and allowing my friends to treat me to dinner (twice). It’s a fair point. So today I decided to reflect on the original intent of the challenge — among other things, to learn about benefits and other assistance programs available to those living in poverty.

After rent, food makes up the largest component of my $1000 budget. So how do people that are living on a $1000 a month get by and still eat complete and balanced meals? I’ve known that food stamps exist, but I haven’t really known the first thing about them. The first thing I learned is that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is the new name of the food stamp program since 2009. There aren’t actually stamps any more, essentially a debit card that is given out to recipients that is good for food purchases.

What really had my curiosity peaked: Would I be eligible for food stamps (or a food debit card) if I were actually making $1000 a month? I decided to look into it.

The USDA has a handy online calculator that lets you estimate what your benefits might be. After inputting information about my hypothetical income ($1000 gross) and assets ($0), the calculator revealed that I would likely qualify for $36 to $46 per month.

Some interesting facts about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:

As of November 2010, there are 43.6 million people in the United States receiving food assistance as part of SNAP, or 14% of the population. On average they received $134 per person per month in 2010 or $293 per household. All in all, it’s a $68.3 billion dollar program funded by the federal government. And it appears that likely due to the economy, the number of people collecting food assistance has risen dramatically, from 26 million in 2006 to 43mm in November 2010.

Picture by clementine gallot via Flickr

5 thoughts on “What I never knew about food stamps”

  1. I’ve not been on food stamps either, but I have a lot of readers who are. So I’ve done some poking around and headline posting on that topic. Maybe this is more than what you need to know! But …

    In Michigan, food stamp families are automatically approved for the school lunch program. This saves some red tape and hassle for those families.

    In addition to the grocery store / convenience store places that accept food stamps, there is a growing trend toward setting up food stamp machines at the farmer’s markets.

    You can buy seeds that grow food with food stamps.

    One can also use food stamps to buy groceries from Angel Food Ministries and the grocery box programs that operate like it across the country.

    If you shop at the grocery store with food stamps, you still can (and in my opinion, should) use coupons, rebates and shopper cards.

    Food stamps can’t be used for cleaning products per se but you can buy food items such as baking soda that can be used as cleaning products.

  2. I myself only qualify for $16 a month and if i wanna even waste my time to attempt to gt that i would have to take time off work to dhs so its really just pointless since the commision i would earn in the two hours it takes at dhs would be about the amount of the food stamps i would get anyway. living on a grand a month, not to easy.

  3. I’ve written a few times about food stamps, which my family received until last month, and they’ve been my most controversial and commented posts. I posted last summer about participating in a “Food Stamp Challenge” – feeding my family on what we receive in SNAP, $389 per month for our family of four. I got a lot of flack about saving money toward my goal while getting assistance, and found that a lot of assumptions were made about me and my family because we used this resource to help make ends meet. Here are the two SNAP posts from last summer:


    I feel like my family has been as responsible as possible while getting assistance, making strides toward self-sufficiency, saving an emergency fund so we don’t have to go back on assistance, and getting off as soon as we could even though we could still qualify. There is a lot of shame and stigma involved with getting assistance.

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