By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
As a result of the pandemic, many New Yorkers have found themselves battling food insecurity. There are several government programs that can help those in critical need. One is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes called food stamps. SNAP is a monthly food assistance program where eligible recipients can qualify for up to $1,000 depending on their household size and income. Beneficiaries will receive an Electronics Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that will function like a debit card and can be used at participating grocery stores, some online retailers like at Amazon, Walmart and Shoprite to purchase food and even with some delivery services like Instacart.
On Sept. 28, the White House held a historic conference on hunger, nutrition and health, which included expanded eligibility for SNAP. Changes to SNAP eligibility went into effect on Oct. 1. If you or someone you know is food insecure, you may now qualify for SNAP benefits. Here are some tips to help with your application.
- Confirm your eligibility
Anyone with a social security number can apply for SNAP benefits. If you don’t have a social security number but you have a child in your household who does, you may still be eligible. You can also qualify if you are in a protected immigration category such as asylum seeker, refugee or are a permanent resident of at least five years.
SNAP benefits are based on your income and household size. Check out these charts to see the list of the maximum gross income you should make to qualify. Remember that income limits are different for families with an elderly or disabled family member.
As of Oct. 1, the SNAP policy in New York State permanently expanded benefits to students in qualified career and technical education (CTE) programs. Students at a SUNY/CUNY community college, comprehensive college or technical college where they are enrolled at least half-time in a qualified CTE program are eligible for SNAP benefits.
Due to the Federal Emergency Relief Act, some college students may be temporarily eligible for SNAP. Students eligible for federal work-study in their financial aid package or with an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 in the current academic year are eligible. This will change 30 days after the Covid-19 federal public health emergency is lifted.
SNAP Benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis. If you are still unsure whether you qualify, you can take a quick quiz to help determine your eligibility.
- Familiarize yourself with the correct vocabulary
Make sure you know what specific terms mean concerning the SNAP application. Here is a list of essential terms:
- Adult: an individual who is 18 years or older.
- Senior: an individual who is 60 years or older.
- A disabled person: someone who received a federal or state disability benefit (such as Social Security Disability).
- Household: Individuals who live together AND purchase and prepare food together. This is an important term to know: let’s say you are applying for SNAP, but you have a roommate or are couchsurfing. In this case, if you are applying for SNAP alone, your household is one because the food you prepare and buy is for yourself only.
- Gross income: A household’s total income before any tax or withholding deductions.
- Net income: Gross income minus allowable deductions.
- Familiarize yourself with the application process
There are three steps on your SNAP application: application, documentation and a phone interview.
The first step will be the initial application that determines your eligibility. (Note: This is not like the quiz mentioned above, this is an official application that will determine if you qualify for SNAP). If you live in one of the five boroughs, you can apply for SNAP via the AccessHRA website or the AccessHRA mobile app. You can also apply for SNAP in person, at your local HRA office or at a local SNAP center.
Before you begin, make sure you gather all documents. These include:
- Identification showing your name and address
- Proof of income
- Social security numbers for all members applying
- Proof of non-citizen status
- Proof of certain expenses (such as housing and medical expenses)
These documents will help you answer questions in your application, and you will need to submit them later in the process. Find a detailed list of documents here.
Next, you will need to upload your supporting documents, which you can do via the AccessHRA website or the AccessHRA mobile app. Here is a video tutorial on how to upload documents on the app. Be sure to submit supporting documents as soon as possible. The more documents you submit in the beginning, the faster your application will be processed.
Lastly, it’s time for the required interview. A representative will contact you within two business days to discuss the information you gave on your initial application.
- Prepare for the phone interview
The SNAP interview is the last step in determining if you qualify for benefits. It’s not meant to trick you or test you, it’s simply done to verify the information you provided on your application. You can have your application as well as your documents on hand as you complete the interview to facilitate answering the questions quickly. If you accidentally answered something incorrectly, this will be an opportunity to correct them. Representatives will ask questions like:
- What is your full name and birthday?
- What is your Social Security number?
- Where do you live?
- Are you a U.S. citizen? (You may still be eligible if you’re a non-citizen.)
- What’s your monthly income?
- Do you pay utilities? What other regular bills do you have?
Be sure to breathe. As you complete the interview, you can also ask someone to be next to you for moral support.
Unfortunately, Nicholas Posada, the supervisor of the Benefits Access Program at The Fortune Society, says wait times for interviews can be lengthy. The most egregious cases have taken up to two to three hours on hold. Be sure to allocate a couple of hours for your phone interview. The interviewer will let you know if you need any additional supporting documents. Make sure you upload them as soon as possible.
After the interview is finished and/or the remaining documents have been uploaded, you will receive a decision in a week. If approved, you will receive a loaded EBT card within a month or less.
- Ask for help if you need it
Many organizations help New Yorkers fill out their SNAP application. A list of them can be found here. Don’t be afraid to ask for help navigating the process.
You or someone you know may need special assistance filling out the application due to a disability or an impairment. There are a range of ways to fill out the application online to fit one’s needs. You can also go to an organization for help. The Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) is a great resource.
One more tip from Posada: stick to independent organizations because SNAP centers can get a little saturated.
- Do away with the stigma regarding SNAP
There tends to be a lot of negative feelings toward SNAP, but the truth is, it’s just a helpful resource for a time of need. Posada says if you qualify, just apply.
“Sometimes people think that if they have money in the bank, and they can ‘survive,’ they might say, ‘I’ll save the food stamps for people that really need it.’ They think there is a finite amount of food stamps, but it’s not,” he says. “As many people who sign up for food stamps [and are eligible] will receive food stamps. It’s a common misconception that because someone got food stamps, someone else won’t.”
Check your eligibility for a range of other benefits by answering a few simple questions at https://mybenefits.ny.gov/
And don’t forget! Once you receive your EBT card, make sure to use it within nine months, or else it will be revoked.