Randy Alison Aussenberg Analyst in Nutrition Assistance Policy
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly
called the Food Stamp Program, is designed primarily to increase the food
purchasing power of eligible low-income households to help them buy a
nutritionally adequate low-cost diet. This report describes the rules related
to eligibility for SNAP benefits as well as the rules for benefits and their
redemption. SNAP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS). SNAP is authorized by the Food and
Nutrition Act of 2008. This law, formerly the Food Stamp Act of 1977, has
since 1973 been reauthorized by the “farm bill,” omnibus legislation that
also typically includes the authorization of other federal agricultural
policies and programs.
SNAP eligibility and benefits are calculated on a household basis. Eligibility
is determined through a traditional or a categorical eligibility path.
Under traditional eligibility, applicant households must meet gross
income, net income, and asset tests. Specifically, household gross monthly
income (all income as defined by SNAP law) must be at or below 130% of the
federal poverty level, and household net (SNAP-specified deductions are
subtracted) monthly income must be at 100% of the federal poverty level.
The traditional asset rules are set at $2,000 per household (inflation
adjusted). (Households that contain an elderly or disabled member have a higher
asset limit and also do not have to meet the gross income test.) Under categorical eligibility,
SNAP eligibility is automatically conveyed based upon the applicant’s
participation in other means-tested programs, namely Supplemental Security
Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or General
Assistance (GA). Because TANF is a broad-purpose block grant, the state
option to extend SNAP eligibility to applicants that receive a TANF-funded benefit
allows states to offer program eligibility under rules that vary from those
discussed in this paragraph, including an elimination of the asset test.
If eligible for SNAP, an applicant household also undergoes a calculation of
its monthly benefit amount (or allotment). This calculation utilizes the
household’s net income as well as the maximum allotment, a figure that
equals the current value of the “Thrifty Food Plan” (TFP). The American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily increased this value.
Benefits are issued on an EBT card, which operates with a declining balance
like a debit card. Benefits are not cash, may not be accessed at an
automatic teller machine, and are redeemable only for foods. Benefits may
be redeemed for foods at licensed retailers, which may include a wide
variety of retailers so long as retailers meet licensing requirements.
This report focuses on SNAP eligibility and the form and function of benefits.
For an overview of SNAP along with the other USDA-FNS programs, such as
the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Commodity Supplemental Food
Program (CSFP), and National School Lunch Program (NSLP), please see CRS
Report R42353, Domestic Food Assistance: Summary of Programs. For
recent SNAP appropriations and spending, please see CRS Report R41964, Agriculture
and Related Agencies: FY2012 Appropriations. For issues related to SNAP and
the farm bill, please see CRS Report R42442, Expiration and Possible
Extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, by Jim Monke, Megan Stubbs, and Randy
Alison Aussenberg; and CRS Report R42829, Domestic Food Assistance in
2012 Farm Bill Proposals: S. 3240 and H.R. 6083. .
Date of Report: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 22 Order Number: R42505 Price: $29.95
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