The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, will help nearly 42 million Americans cope with food insecurity in 2021. But despite being eligible, millions still do not receive benefits, and many more do not take full advantage of the benefits they are receiving. Here are the most common mistakes that keep eligible people from receiving benefits and keep beneficiaries from maximizing their SNAP payments.
Find out: Surprising things you can buy with food stamps
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think you cannot apply for other programs
About 5 million SNAP-eligible seniors miss out on benefits, according to the National Council on Aging. Many of them may not apply because they don’t think they can get Social Security and Food Stamps at the same time — but they can.
Although the USDA counts Social Security payments as regular income when determining eligibility, participation in one program does not prevent you from participating in the other. In fact, you can apply for SNAP at your local Social Security office.
You can also receive SNAP while receiving SSI benefits, receiving Medicaid, living in Section 8 housing, or participating in any other assistance program, as long as you are eligible.
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no maximum deduction
The USDA determines SNAP eligibility based on income and household size. Many potentially eligible people do not apply because they do not meet the income threshold. But the USDA allows several deductions that can help you qualify even if your income exceeds the income limit. Deductions include:
- 20% income deduction
- Standard deduction based on family size
- Dependent Care Deduction
- Non-reimbursable medical expenses over $35 per month for seniors or disabled family members
- child support (in some states)
- Shelter deduction for homeless families (in some states)
don’t know what you can buy
USDA does not allow SNAP recipients to purchase certain items, including alcoholic beverages, tobacco, vitamins, pet food, hot food, and live animals.
But many beneficiaries mistakenly believe they can’t use food stamps for junk food like candy and snacks, but the truth is, SNAP can satisfy your sweet tooth. In addition to standard groceries such as produce, meat, dairy, bread, and cereals, the USDA allows the purchase of a variety of so-called “supplementary foods,” including potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, candy, ice cream, sweet Circles, brownies, mints, chocolates, sodas, non-refill energy drinks and many other side dishes.
Not using coupons and cashback apps
SNAP recipients often don’t think they can use coupons, but according to the USDA, “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers can use coupons issued by the manufacturer or store.”
They can also use coupon and cashback apps like Ibotta, Rakuten, Coupons.com, and Fetch Rewards for free.
Cash-back apps like Ibotta can come in handy because they can give back necessities that shoppers can use to buy necessities that SNAP won’t pay for, like diapers and medicines.
Shopping not as planned
The USDA maintains a list of links and resources to help all shoppers get the most out of their grocery store. Meal plans are at the heart of smart shopping—and SNAP recipients will benefit the most.
By planning your meals for the week in advance, you can go to the grocery store knowing exactly which ingredients you need, saving you time and preventing wasted expenses.
The USDA list includes several weekly meal plan templates to get you started, and you’ll also find shopping tips, sample menus, and more.
According to ABC Action News, shoppers can save hundreds of dollars on grocery bills and avoid impulse purchases by simply planning three to four dinners a week.
skip the farmers market
The USDA maintains an updated list of hundreds of farmers’ markets across the country that accept food stamps — an option that all SNAP recipients should consider. Farmers’ markets have historically been more expensive than supermarkets, but high inflation has pushed up grocery store prices faster than local community markets, according to CNBC.
Prices are now comparable between the two, and in some cases even cheaper at the farmers market. If prices are close, your EBT dollars may be better spent at the farmers market, as the fruits and vegetables you find there are often fresher — and therefore more nutritious — than what you’ll find on supermarket produce shelves.
Missing out on SNAP-focused discounts
Amazon is offering half-price Prime memberships to SNAP recipients. Museums for All offers beneficiaries free or discounted access to more than 900 museums across the country. Many YMCA chapters also cut membership fees for SNAP recipients.
But this is by no means an exhaustive list.
If you’re eligible for SNAP, you may be eligible for the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity program, which supplements home broadband costs, and the Lifeline program, which offers free tablets. Lime offers discounts on its bike-share program, as does Citi Bike — and the list goes on. If you receive food stamps, you may be eligible for discounts on a variety of products, services, and programs from corporations, nonprofits, and public agencies.
Low Income Relief maintains a list of more than 300 discounts for SNAP recipients.
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