Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program,better known as the food stamp program. It is also one of several SHFWire stories that will focus on the 2012 elections in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
To understand the rigmarole associated with eligibility requirements,here is a walk through the USDA-prescribed steps a household would take to gain benefits.
Imagine a low income family made up of a 33-year-old mother,two children under the age of 18 and one under the age of 5. Mom earns $1,500 a month,and the family qualifies for welfare assistance of $550 a month. This brings the total gross monthly income to $2,050,or $24,600 per year.
According to the U.S.Department of Agriculture,this gross income qualifies the family to proceed to the second step of eligibility processing,calculating net income. To do this,there are a few deductions the family now needs to work through.
Deductions for this specific family would include family size,earned income,dependent care and excess shelter – a complex calculation of housing costs. After subtracting all of these deductions,net income has shrunk to $1,151 – well below the qualifying threshold of $1,863.
Now the family can decipher just how much in SNAP benefits it will be receiving monthly. For this family that’s $321 – about $80.25 per person.
With the average December price of a gallon of milk at $3.65,and a dozen eggs sitting at $1.87,buying nutritionally sound foods is no simple task.
While Dr. Joy Dubhost,spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,believes SNAP does allow for a complete nutritional meal plan,“You have to become a little more shopper savvy,” she said.
To do this she suggested a series of steps SNAP participants should follow when they shop for groceries. A couple of the most important include not shopping when you are hungry,perusing the perimeters of the store – where more nutritional foods are – before the aisles and understanding that it’s OK to buy frozen fruits and vegetables.
“Buying frozen vegetables or fruit in a bag is perfectly fine,” she said. “It’s just as nutritionally adequate,the frozen fruit,as the fresh.”
Sometimes,frozen produce is even more healthy than fresh because it is frozen at the time of harvest,and it doesn’t sit around on the shelves all day she said.
As an added benefit to buying healthy on SNAP,the 2008 Farm Bill introduced the Healthy Incentives Pilot,which gives shoppers a 30 cent return for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables.
“With food prices increasing and with the amount of money you may have,whether SNAP or not,is about getting the biggest nutritional bang for your buck,” Dubost said.
Reach reporter Elijah Herington at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.