You Don’t Know SNAP!

SNAP25SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, can be confusing. Many people have heard of Food Stamps, the name by which SNAP was formerly known, but in-depth information about the program always seems to elude even the most inquisitive among us.

There is a sharp contrast between how well-known the SNAP benefit is and how little information the general public seems to have about it. Clouded by nuances, and at times controversy, SNAP and one’s participation in the program can often raise diverse opinions. Who qualifies for the program? Is it helpful? Should I try to sign up? The answers may be simpler than you think.

Eligibility Requirements – Who Qualifies?

SNAP is a federally-funded, income-based assistance program. Your household’s finances determine whether you are eligible to receive benefits and how much you are entitled. The most commonly asked question about SNAP is: “What is the income limit for a household of x individuals?” Ironically it is also the most difficult question to answer.

While there are income limit charts available to the public, they do not accurately give you a picture of your own potential eligibility. The elements that determine your income eligibility are complex and can include factors such as your household size and composition, types of income, student status, shelter expenses, medical expenses and child care. With so many variables, how your resources are weighted will often be unique to your household’s circumstance.

Is the Program Helpful?

The usefulness of SNAP as an entitlement program is frequently under scrutiny by the public and in legislative debates. But, here are the facts:

  • About 20% of Hawaii’s population is income eligible to receive SNAP.
  • 14% of the population is utilizing SNAP, accounting for approximately 180,000 individuals.
  • About 70% of all SNAP recipients are families with children, elderly and/or disabled household members.
  • The average monthly benefit for a SNAP household in Hawaii is $430 and about 80% of it is redeemed within the first two weeks of issuance. Throughout the month, 97% of the benefit is spent.
  • For every dollar issued in SNAP benefit, $1.84 is generated in economic activity for the local community. This amounts to an estimated $42,062,400 each month in the state of Hawaii.

Based on these stats, SNAP is not only helpful, but it is essential to a significant segment of Hawaii’s population. The program helps tens of thousands every month by providing food assistance to those who would otherwise go hungry. It decreases financial barriers to nutritional options for at-risk households. And, the infusion of dollars stimulates the local economy.

SNAP7Should I Try to Sign Up?

There can be barriers that make SNAP difficult to access for some people. For instance, the 12-page application form is daunting for people with limited English proficiency. Those who lack a mailing address, such as the chronically homeless, find it difficult to maintain the benefit because they do not receive notifications and updates. Elderly and disabled individuals, who receive the benefit, may lack transportation or have reduced mobility that makes it difficult to access their benefit. Additionally, there are issues and gaps in services that providers are continuously trying to address through SNAP outreach efforts.

But, the most overwhelming barrier is simply choosing not to apply because of a misunderstanding about the program or misinformation. People struggle with their food expenses far too frequently because they were told by a friend or a family member that they won’t qualify for SNAP. Because of this, they never try to apply for the benefit. Common examples of these situations are: immigrant families who believe they cannot get the benefit because they are not U.S. citizens and seniors who feel bad about signing up, because they believe if they qualify, then they are taking the benefit away from someone who is worse off (they’re not). Additionally, some people take a quick glance at the income chart and decide that it’s not worth their time to fill out the application. In total, approximately 6% of Hawaii’s SNAP-eligible population (about 80,000 people) doesn’t receive the benefit, not because they don’t qualify, but because they choose not to participate.

It’s not easy to figure out whether or not you qualify for SNAP, because it almost always boils down to a case-by-case scenario. Even after administering SNAP Outreach for nearly a decade, Helping Hands Hawaii still learns new things about the program every day. But, you shouldn’t let the perceived difficulty deter you from seeking assistance.

Do you struggle with your food budget? Do you and your family want to eat healthier but lack the funds to do it? If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then you should apply for SNAP. Eat better starting today! Pick up an application or call Helping Hands Hawaii at 440-3812 for a pre-screening. We’re here to help you!

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