posted on October 28, 2015 13:33
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) is one of the newest programs for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. While the Food Bank has been providing food assistance through a network of more than 800 partner agencies, we are also now assisting individuals and families apply for SNAP benefits. A federally-funded program, SNAP helps low-income individuals and families stretch their food budget and buy healthy food by giving clients an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, ACCESS, which works similarly to a debit card and allows them to purchase food at grocery stores, convenience stores and some farmer’s markets and co-op food programs.
SNAP plays a critical role for low-income individuals and families by filling a gap for households that may not be able to buy food due to a financial crisis because of low wage paying jobs, job loss or disability. It also ensures that children and seniors have access to the healthy food they need to thrive. SNAP is a powerful tool that is incredibly under-utilized and is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, helping recipients transition to self-sufficiency and becoming financially stable.
Recently, the Food Bank announced a bold goal to close the meal gap throughout our 27 county service territory in 10 years, with three initiatives in mind: expand our core food banking efforts, grow our school-based outreach and increase our SNAP participation. Providing SNAP as an additional food resource to clients will help alleviate additional food demands from our partner agencies while improving our local economy. According to the USDA, every $5 in new SNAP benefits can generate as much as $9 of economic activity.
In May, 2014 the Food Bank started the Food Stamps Helpline, a customer friendly service that assists clients in navigating the SNAP application process over the phone. Our friendly SNAP outreach associates do this through a three step process. The process typically begins by determining the client’s household size and confirming that they meet the income guidelines set forth by the Department of Human Services. If the client meets the income guidelines, a brief screening is completed to determine whether the client may or may not be eligible for SNAP benefits and how much they may be eligible for. SNAP eligibility is based on financial and non-financial factors and if the screening shows the client may be eligible for SNAP benefits our SNAP outreach associate will assist the client in filling a SNAP application online through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s COMPASS system. After the client’s application gets submitted, their local County Assistance Office (CAO) has 30 days to determine whether or not they are eligible for benefits. If a household is eligible, they are provided with their SNAP benefits each month through an ACCESS card. The average monthly SNAP benefit per household is $194.
Everyone we help has a story, some more unfortunate than others, but all of them will truly make you humble at the end of the day. Just last week I assisted a household of four; husband and wife with two children who were referred to me by a partner agency. This particular partner agency had just had a crisis intervention with the mother as she was spiraling into depression and didn’t know what to do or where to go. After talking with the mother, I learned that a year ago, the husband was diagnosed with cancer and since then they have unfortunately lost their business leaving them with no income to pay for monthly bills and basic needs, including food. Although they have been utilizing a food pantry, it’s still not enough. Fortunately, this family qualified for SNAP benefits, which were received the next day. Knowing that the client qualified for expedited services, I followed up with her the next day and was elated to hear the sound of her voice…hope. The dark gray cloud that was hanging over her the day before seemed to have vanished. Now that her families’ food needs are being met, she can focus on other assistance they may need.
Our staff makes each and every one of our clients a priority. Some of our client’s relationships continue after submitting their applications as we follow-up with them during the determination period to make sure they aren’t getting lost in the system. Many times our clients get confused when they are asked to provide documentation to the County Assistance Office (CAO) and will forgo their benefits because they don’t understand what is being asked of them. That’s when we become their advocate and help empower them to help themselves. In addition to following up with our clients, we also try and provide other resources that they may qualify for if they qualify for SNAP benefits, such as heating assistance, free cell phones, 2-1-1, etc.
If you know someone struggling to pay for food and they meet they meet the gross monthly income guidelines listed in the document below, please have them call our Food Stamps Helpline at 877.999.5964.