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History and Overview
The food stamp program used to be issued on actual stamps that could be redeemed at grocery stores for food items. However, the 21st century converted the stamps to special debit cards. Some people who rely on this kind of assistance are relieved that a debit card replaced the actual stamps. It is very difficult for people to see whether you are using a food stamp debit card or a regular bank debit card. Because of privacy laws, an average citizen such as your neighbor or a friend won't know you're on food stamps for unemployed unless you tell him or her.
The first food stamps were issued in 1939. Today, the government service is officially called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to individual state Social Services agencies.
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Income and Asset Limits
Some working people do qualify for food stamps and can use these in their personal spending plans to defray the cost of household groceries. However, whether you are unemployed or working your household must not have above a certain income or level of assets. Usually the maximum food stamp benefit for one person is around $150, but the amount can be lessened if you have at least some form of income such as unemployment benefits or incoming child support payments.
A one person household usually cannot have more than $1,174 gross monthly income or $903 net monthly income. If your family has a total of four people who eat meals together (this basically just means you can't include non-family members to which you might be renting rooms to) the gross monthly income limit is $2,389; the net income maximum is $1,838.
Certain deductions that can create a lower net income (this must be officially documented by a social worker) include housing and medical expenses.
You also cannot have checking or savings accounts worth more than $2,000. Vehicles not used for long-distance, work-related travel or transporting a disabled family member usually must be worth less than $4,650 for food stamp qualification.
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You'll contact your local Social Services department to get the food stamp application process started. During the approval process, which can take up to 30 days, unless you qualify for emergency aid, you'll provide specific documents.
Requirements usually include any pay-stubs related to income, such as SSI, unemployment or job payments. You also provide Social Security Numbers for yourself and anyone else in your household. Finally, you'll also have to provide proof of U.S. citizenship and often a copy of any car registration(s) you might hold.
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If you have less than $150 in assets and/or income, you may be able to get emergency aid. This usually means you'll get the food stamp card right away, though it could take up to seven days. You may also be offered cash welfare benefits, especially if you have dependent children or are pregnant. Sometimes you might even qualify for state medical insurance, but this depends on your situation and income.
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If you're not working at all and are not considered disabled, then you'll need to provide your social worker with evidence that you're actively seeking employment. Some states require you to fill out forms with the names of employers contacted, and whether you used e-mail, phone, fax or mail. A few states, like California, may require you to perform community service work monthly to continue receiving your government benefits. The aim of any work requirements is to bring able-bodied people to self-sufficiency.
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Food stamps provided for unemployed workers can't be used for everything at a grocery store, and it is a federal offense to sell them for cash or exchange them for other goods. Paper plates, pet food, certain hot foods prepared at a deli, cigarettes and alcohol are among those items that cannot be purchased with your food stamp debit card. Using self-checkout to buy forbidden items won't work; the card will issue a decline code if non-approved purchases are attempted.
Protect your food stamp card and selected PIN like you would any debit or credit card. Be sure to report any loss or theft immediately so the card and its benefits can be quickly replaced.
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"USDA: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)." http://www.fns.usda.gov/FSP/applicant_recipients/eligibility.htm