Focus on the Law: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Formerly referred to as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income families supplement their monthly food budgets to free up more of their income for essential living expenses. This is a federal program funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is run by state or local agencies. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) administers SNAP.

According to a press release from July 17, 2014, Tennessee DHS’s SNAP has been recognized by USDA as “No. 1 in the nation for most improvement in Case and Procedural Error Rate (CAPER), a measurement directly related to improvement in efficiency and customer service.” As a result DHS received a performance bonus of approximately $5 million to invest in technology and modernization.

At the end of Fiscal Year 2014, there were 546,284 children and 756,144 adults receiving SNAP in Tennessee. In the month of September of 2014 the number of participants receiving SNAP was

1,282,855 individuals living in 636,588 households and receiving a total of $158,779,291.  A decade ago in the month of September of 2004, some 834,836 individuals in 365,293 households received food stamp benefits totaling $72,583,388. Last month in Knox County there were 65,129 children and adults who received $8,144,035 in SNAP benefits.

According to the DHS website, to be eligible for SNAP payments applicants must live in Tennessee to receive benefits from Tennessee. There are no specific age limits to receive SNAP payments. Minors may apply on their own if they do not live with their parents. Individuals living together and who purchase and prepare food together are considered one household. Parents and their children 21 years or younger are considered one household. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals or qualified aliens. Some legal immigrants are ineligible but their dependents are often eligible.

All household members must have a social security number or proof that they have applied for one.

Able-bodied applicants between 16 and 59 must register for work, participate in the Employment & Training Program if offered, accept offers of employment and cannot quit a job. Able-bodied adults aged 18-59 without dependents can receive only a limited number of benefit months in 3 years, unless they are working 80 hours per month or are otherwise exempt from the rule. Most college students must work an average of 20 hours per week, be enrolled in work-study, care for young dependents or be receiving Families First. Strikers must be eligible based upon income and resources before the day of the strike to qualify for benefits during the strike. Individuals disqualified for fraud are ineligible for one year for the first offense, two years for the second offense and permanently ineligible for the third. Dependents of disqualified or ineligible individuals may still be eligible for benefits.

Applicants may not have resources of more than $2,250 for most households and $3,250 for households containing a member who is disabled or 60 years of age. Assets NOT counted are the home the applicant is presently living in and its lot, income producing property, real estate that is up for sale, cash value of life insurance, personal property, retirement accounts and vehicles with less than $1500 in equity. Vehicles used for family transportation, subsistence hunting and sued for work or producing income are NOT counted. The program only looks at liquid assets. Income limits range from $1265 gross income for an individual to $2584 for a family of four. There are numerous deductions from what is considered income including a 20% deduction on earnings and a standard deduction per household.

If you need assistance regarding the SNAP program, DHS has a toll-free customer service line at 1-866-311-4287.

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