The mathematics of food stamps
I’ve gotten many questions from people about the $7 a day allotment for the Hunger Challenge and why a two-person household gets $12 and not $14, etc. etc.
I’m no expert on Washington’s Basic Food Program (what we call food stamps in this state), but Liz Jaquette at the nonprofit WithinReach is. So I gave Liz a call and got a brief, but illuminating, education on food stamps. Here’s what I learned.
$7 a day is the MAXIMUM benefit for a single person
Most single people on food stamps don’t get $7 a day. They get far less.
To qualify for food stamps, as a household of one, you need to make no more than $1,816 a month. If that seems like a lot for one month, keep in mind that equals an annual income of $21,792 (before taxes). Pretty meager.
At $1,816, a single person may likely receive as little as $16 in food stamps for an entire month, which comes out to about 52 cents a day.
To qualify for $7 a day in food stamps, you would have to be very low-income—as in $700 in monthly income. This means someone who is surviving on $8,000—or less—a year.
We wanted to make the Hunger Challenge a low barrier exercise for people so that’s why we set the allotment at the maximum benefit. We know that this doesn’t reflect the reality of most single people on food stamps, but the point of the Hunger Challenge isn’t to perfectly replicate the conditions of being poor and hungry. We want people to get a glimpse of what it’s like, and then be motivated to take action to help end hunger.
Each person in your household doesn’t get $7 a day for food stamps
For each additional person in a household, the calculation for food stamps benefit is less.
For example, if you have a two-person household, the maximum daily benefit you can get is $12, not $14.
The basis for food stamp allotments is the Thrifty Food Plan, put together by the United States Department of Agriculture. It dictates how much the feds think a family can get by on a month.
The federal government assumes that people share food within a household and so more people in your household does not always equal more money in food stamps. In other words, big families don’t get huge benefit amounts.
Every state’s food stamp program is different
Liz said that Washington is one of the few states that require people to be 200% below the federal poverty level to qualify for food stamps. In other states, you have to be “seriously, seriously” low-income to get them.
In addition, Liz said that other states want people to go through all of their resources before they apply for benefits. That means people are completely exhausting their savings, selling their assets and completely broke by the time they try to get food stamps.
That isn’t the case in Washington, which gives people a better chance of stabilizing. However, it hasn’t always been this way, and it definitely could change.
Obviously food stamps and public benefits in general are very complicated. If you want to learn more about the Washington Basic Food program, a good place to start is its website: http://foodhelp.wa.gov/basic_food.htm.
Another interesting tool is the Basic Food Benefit Estimator. This gives you a sense of what your food stamps benefit would be based on your household size, income and other factors.
You can also call the Family Health Hotline at 1.800.322.2588 to ask questions about food stamps and other benefits.
And Liz Jaquette of WithinReach has generously agreed to personally take questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.