Can you afford basic groceries this week? Is there room in your budget for more healthy ingredients? If not, there are programs that can help, especially if you’re pregnant, or taking care of children or disabled or elderly family members. There is nothing to be ashamed of; more than 40 million Americans need a little help to make ends meet. It’s sometimes called “food insecurity,” and in recent years, many people began experiencing food insecurity for the first time. In the United States, there are a couple of programs designed to make sure struggling Americans have money for healthy food. You may qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

SNAP

SNAP is designed for anyone in need of food assistance. It is managed by each state with different requirements, so I encourage you to find out if you are eligible by filing for assistance with your state agency. It may take some time to get your application processed, but if you qualify, they’ll provide financial support retroactively to the day you applied. You’ll likely be given a card much like a credit card that will be loaded with a balance each month to pay for certain grocery items. It can be used for basic items such as fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. But it won’t pay for medicine, pre-made foods, beer, wine, and other non-food or household items.

Program Name: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 

Who’s Eligible? Anyone needing food assistance.

How do you sign up? To apply for benefits, contact your local SNAP office. Find the contact information on the USDA’s website.

What’s the maximum income to qualify? From $1,383 to $4,780 gross monthly income depending on the size of your household. You may also need to meet work requirements.

How does it help? A card like a debit card that is used to buy certain food.

How much can I get? From about $200 to $1,225.

How long can I get assistance? If you are found eligible, you will receive a notice that tells you how long you will receive SNAP benefits for.

WIC

If you’re a mother struggling to make ends meet, I encourage you to apply for WIC, which is specifically to help women like you take care of yourself and your children. It provides financial assistance and healthcare referrals, in addition to education during pregnancy and for new mothers. You must meet a few criteria to qualify for WIC, and you may need to make an appointment with your state agency. There is a pre-screening tool online that can help you determine if you meet the minimum requirements. If you qualify, you’ll likely get a check in the mail that can be used at certain stores to buy food, baby formula, and other necessities.

Program Name: Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program

Who’s Eligible? You or someone in your household must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Pregnant
  • Had a baby (or been pregnant) within the last 6 months
  • Currently breastfeeding a baby that is less than 12 months old
  • Is a baby, child, or foster children under the age of 5.

How do you sign up? It varies from state to state. See the USDA’s WIC page here.

What’s the maximum income to qualify? From $1,860 to $6,371 monthly gross income depending on the size of your household.

How does it help? Buys food with a voucher that can be used in certain stores, and covers some healthcare costs.

How much can I get? There’s no specified dollar amount. This program provides a voucher that is like a check but can be used to buy only specified items from specific stores.  

How long can I get assistance? As long as you meet the criteria. WIC lasts for 6 months, or a year if you’re breastfeeding.

TANF

You may also qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Eligibility for TANF may be more straightforward; you’ll need to be a resident of the state where you apply and have an income under the required limit. You’ll need to either have a child 18 years of age or younger, be pregnant, or be a head of household 18 years old or younger. Find additional information about TANF here.

Program Name: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families   

Who’s Eligible? Must be a legal resident, low-income, unemployed, or underemployed, and have children under the age of 18 in your household. 

How do you sign up? It varies from state to state. See the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ TANF page here.

What’s the maximum income to qualify? Varies from state to state. 

How does it help? Monthly checks. 

How much can I get? From about $300 to $1,000.

How long can I get assistance? It’s limited to 60 months in a lifetime.

SSI

The SSI program provides a monthly limited income for blind and disabled adults, and for those age 65 and older. Qualifying for SSI may be more involved, with income, age, and medical requirements.

We’d like to help.

If you need help keeping healthy food in your pantry, please contact your Health Advisor, who can provide support and guide you through some of the options covered in this article.

*Post updated 3/19/21

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