For the average person, waking up, having breakfast, going about their day, and coming home to a decent meal for dinner is normal. It can even feel boring at times. But when we think about those who don’t have that privilege, it really puts things into perspective. There are folks out there who struggle to find a warm meal during their average days. Things can get extra challenging when thinking about having a nutritious, fresh meal.
There are several non-profit organizations out there to help people like that, such as Feeding America. There are Facebook and Gofundme campaigns going on all the time to help those struggling with food insecurity. Unfortunately, there are still plenty out there still struggling with the same matter. Having a global pandemic that basically derailed economic development really doesn’t help. A study shows that in 2020 38.3 million people in the US lived in food-insecure households.
To fight against food insecurity in America, the government created several benefit programs to help those who need them. Among those programs is one called The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP for short.
What Is TEFAP?
The Emergency Food Assistance Program is a federal program that aims to help low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides food and funds to local state governments under the TEFAP program. State governments then distribute the food to local approved agencies. These agencies will then distribute the food to soup kitchens and food pantries to serve the public.
States enrolled in TEFAP receive food from USDA according to the number of unemployed individuals, as well as the number of low-income families in the state. State governments will also provide food to other types of local organizations, such as community action agencies. These organizations will distribute food directly to low-income households.
Eligibility For TEFAP
Like pretty much most government assistance programs, you need to be eligible to receive TEFAP benefits. Since TEFAP is run by state governments, eligibility may vary from one state to the other. Eligibility for TEFAP mainly depends on your income level. But again, income levels are decided by state governments. So for example, the median income level in New York is $32,230, but the median income level in Michigan is $29,672. So, you’ll need to check with your state government to make sure you and your family qualify as low-income. In some states, you may be eligible for TEFAP if you already participate in other federal, state, or local food, health, or welfare programs that are based on income. These low-income assistance programs may include:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Aid to Needy Disabled (AND)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Medicaid Eligible Foster Children
You can often find food provided through TEFAP in one or both of the 2 following sources:
- You can get food to take home from a food pantry
- Soup kitchens will provide meals that you can have alongside other people
To get more information on the program, try contacting your state distributing agency. You can find all contact information regarding state distributing agencies on this page.
What Kind Of Food Can I Receive Through TEFAP?
There’s a list of approved foods provided by USDA in what they call emergency food packages. Participants in the TEFAP program can receive emergency food packages at least once a month. The foods in question are usually shelf-stable, which means they don’t require refrigeration. These foods may include canned or dried fruits, vegetables and legumes (beans), bottles juices, and nuts. Recipients may also find their packages supplemented with foods such as pasta, meat-based proteins, and fresh vegetables.
Other Federal Assistance Programs That Can Help You Get The Food You Need
It’s absolutely fantastic that there’s a program such as TEFAP to help out those who can’t afford to put food on the table. However, some people may have a hard time trying to qualify for the program. Others may find their families’ needs unmet by benefits provided through TEFAP. There’s got to be other options, right?
Right. Another program the government has created to help the needy with their nutritional needs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. SNAP used to also be referred to as food stamps.
Here’s Some Background Information On SNAP
So, in 1990, the government replaced paper food stamps with Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT). These cards function the same way debit cards do. These cards can instead be used to buy food items in stores. EBT cards are refilled every month by the government and can be used by recipients at any store that accepts them. Having a digital platform such as EBT helps the government track how the money is being spent, also other government assistance programs can be linked to the same card. These cards require PIN numbers for access. Which in turn makes them more secure than paper stamps. EBT cards can be used the same way you’d use a debit card at any Point-Of-Sale (POS).
The federal government handles 100% of the financing for SNAP. However, the federal government delegates administrative duties to state governments. As part of the USDA, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) manages SNAP through a large network of field offices. These offices are the ones responsible for licensing retail food businesses that wish to participate in SNAP. In the meanwhile, state governments are the ones that decide whether people are eligible to receive SNAP benefits or not.
How Can I Receive SNAP Benefits?
Eligibility for SNAP depends mainly on a household’s income. The government aims to help those who earn less than 130% of the federal poverty level. To put things into numbers, the federal poverty level in the fiscal year of 2022 is at $1,830 per month for a household of 3 people. That means to qualify for SNAP families must earn less than $1,830 x 130% = $2,379 per month or nearly $28,550 per year for a three-person household.
Qualifying income amounts will vary with household sizes. For example, eligibility based on income level will not be the same for a household of three as it is for a household of four persons. Other factors may also come into play, such as disabled family members or elderly family members.
Other financial aspects of the household will also affect its eligibility for SNAP. Things such as owned assets and bank savings must not be above a certain amount to qualify for SNAP. Make sure to always check with your local SNAP offices for the latest information.
The Application Process For SNAP
Since we’re going through special circumstances, i.e a global pandemic, you are now allowed to apply for SNAP online, by mail, or over the phone. You will be required to fill in an application. SNAP offices may take up to 30 days to process your application after submitting it. While SNAP offices are going through your application, they will ask you to attend a simple interview. You may attend this interview either in person or over the phone. If you are unable to visit your local SNAP offices, phone them or access the internet to apply, you may be permitted to have someone else apply on your behalf.
What Can I Buy With My SNAP EBT Card?
As we mentioned earlier, SNAP focuses on providing low-income families with food-related needs. Hence, the government expects beneficiaries to only use the program to buy food essentials. The list of permitted food is as follows:
- Fruits and vegetables;
- Poultry, meat, and fish;
- Dairy products;
- Cereals and different types of bread;
- Other foods, like snack foods and nonalcoholic beverages;
- And plants and seeds that you can use to produce food.
On the other hand, the government forbids using EBT cards for non-essential items. These items are either luxuries or unnecessary items that families don’t need to satisfy their food-related needs:
- Alcohol and tobacco products like cigarettes;
- Medicines, vitamins, and supplements;
- Live animals;
- Non-Food grocery items, such as cleaning supplies and pets food;
- And hot meals.
Here’s What You Should Do When You’re Having Trouble Affording Paying For Meals
First, Get Rid Of Unnecessary Spending
Starting with intoxicants, such as alcohol. Cutting down on intoxication wouldn’t just save you money, but would also help you focus on more important things. Second comes luxuries. You should try to pamper yourself with little things, every once in a while. However, spending money on expensive brands of foods and clothes will be regrettable if they affect your overall livelihood. Even the small things, such as paying for your music services, such as Spotify will have to wait. Find cheaper alternatives. Remember, every dollar you save is a dollar you can spend on feeding yourself and your loved ones.
Work On Finding A Job, It’ll Always Pay Better Than Government Benefits
The economy is pretty unstable right now, so if you find jobs that might not pay as much as you’d like, at least consider them. In the meantime, try to find some part-time jobs, even for just a few hours a day. Some income will always be better than no income at all. Securing an income will always get better over time. You can get promoted, get raises and change your overall financial status.
It’s very understandable that some people are struggling to put food on the table nowadays. There are several people out there willing to help. These people can be everyday individuals, or they can be non-profit organizations. But the problem still persists. That’s why the government created several programs to help with families’ food shortages.
Starting with TEFAP it’s a program that aims to help low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost. Families and individuals that require TEFAP’s help will often find their needs at local soup kitchens and food pantries. Families can receive emergency food packages through SNAP on a monthly basis.
Then, there’s SNAP. SNAP provides debit-card-like EBT cards that can satisfy family food necessities. Families should only use these cards to buy food that they actually need. Families should avoid using EBT funds to buy luxuries or items that may be deemed unnecessary.
All of these programs focus on low-income Americans and eligible immigrants. So, make sure you can prove your income level and learn about the programs before applying to any of them.