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#625 Food stamps

mp3 #625 Food Stamps (mp3 file)

This SmartLaw message will discuss the following questions:

1--What are Food Stamps?

2--How do you apply for Food Stamps?

3--Who is eligible for Food Stamps?

4--What is a Food Stamp Household?

5--What are the resource limits for Food Stamp Households?

6--What are the gross income maximums for Food Stamp applicants?

7--What are the net income maximums after deductions?

8--How much in Food Stamps can you expect to receive each month?

9--What are the work requirements for Food Stamps?

10--What penalties do you face if you don't comply?

11--What if you disagree with your county's decision in your Food Stamp case?

1--What are Food Stamps?

The Food Stamp program, sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture, is a way of helping low-income families and individuals to buy more food. You can buy more food at your local grocery store by using your Food Stamp coupons. In some California counties, instead of Food Stamp coupons, you get a plastic card that goes through the credit card recorder at your grocer's checkout counter, and deducts from a Food Stamp account that has been set up for you. Food stamps are available to any person who qualifies for the program. Because there are many rules and regulations governing eligibility for Food Stamps, there is no sure way to know if you are eligible until you apply at your local welfare department, which is usually called the county department of public social services, or some similar name.

2--How do you apply for Food Stamps?

To get Food Stamps, you must file an application form. To start the processing of your application, you only need to put your name and address on the form, sign and date it, and return it to the Food Stamp office. The "clock starts ticking" when you file the application, and a decision must be made on your case within 30 days, unless you are eligible for emergency Food Stamps, which must take no longer than 3 calendar days.

To receive Food Stamps, the Food Stamp eligibility worker will ask you to bring or send additional papers to prove your identity, income, and address.

If you don't have or can't get some of the documents, the Food Stamp office should help you -- you don't need to have all of them before you apply. The worker can call or write to an employer, landlord, neighbor, or social service agency.

If you can't pay your rent, are homeless or a migrant worker who is destitute or if you have less than $100 and your gross income is less than $150 per month, then be sure to apply for emergency Food Stamps.

3--Who is eligible for Food Stamps?

With some exceptions, all persons with a gross income under 130% of poverty are eligible for Food Stamps.

--you can own a home and still get Food Stamps,

--you do not need to live with children, and

--homeless people can also get Food Stamps.

However, you cannot get Food Stamps if:

--your gross income before taking allowable deductions is more than 130% of poverty (or more than 165% if you are elderly or disabled) , or

--you receive supplemental security income (SSI), or

--you are a striker (unless you were eligible before the strike), or

--you are a live-in attendant for a sick or elderly person and they are providing the majority of your meals, or

--you live in a boarding school, jail, or other institution where food is provided (with some exceptions), or

--you have been disqualified or cut off for some reason, or

--you have been convicted of a drug-related felony since August 22nd 1996, or

--you are not a United States citizen or an eligible legal immigrant with some exceptions, or

--you are a half-time or full-time college student, unless: you work at least 20 hours per week, or you participate in federal work study or JTPA or CALWORKS, or if you are disabled, or less than 18 years old, or older than 50, or if you are the parent of a dependent child under 12 and you are a full time student or if you are the parent of a child age 6 - 11 and adequate child care is not available.

4--What is a Food Stamp Household?

Food stamps are given to Households. The term "Household" has a special meaning in this program. It does not mean that you have a house. Even if you live alone, you still apply for Food Stamps as a Household. For purposes of the Food Stamp program, the Household is defined as a person living alone, or a group of people living together (whether or not they are related) who purchase food and prepare meals together. This means that there can be more than one Food Stamp Household living in the same place. However, some relatives can, and some relatives cannot, set up separate Food Stamp Households:

Food stamp Households cannot be separate for the following people who live together:

-spouses, or

-parents and children under age 22, even if the child is married or has her own children, or

-those who are acting as parents for a child under age 18, unless the child is in foster care.

But Food Stamp Households can be separate, for the following people who live together:

-adult brothers and sisters, or

-parents living with their adult children who are over age 21.

5--What are the resource limits for Food Stamp Households?

The Food Stamp office figures out what "things you own," called assets or resources.

You can have $2,000 in Household resources; elderly and disabled Households can have $3,000 in resources.

Resources include cash on hand or in the bank, stocks and bonds, money from an insurance settlement, tax refund, boats and some vehicles.

Many items are excluded and don't count as a resource, such as

--the house you live in and its attached land;

--the first $4,650 of the value of any vehicle used for transportation,

--a vacant lot where you plan to build a house, or a burial plot;

--personal belongings and Household goods,

--cash value of a life insurance policy or some pension plans, and

--property such as tools, that you use to make money.

Special rules apply to cars and other licensed vehicles such as trucks, vans, buses, motorcycles, boats and planes. Some cars (and other vehicles) do not count as resources at all; such as:

--a car, truck, etc., that you normally use to make a living,

--a car that makes money for you each year, such as a rental car or truck,

--a car or truck you drive a long way for work, like a traveling salesperson or migrant worker, not simply to commute to work, and

--a vehicle that you live in.

For other vehicles, the Food Stamp office will let you deduct $4,650 from their value, and not count that amount toward your resource limit.

6--What are the gross income maximums for Food Stamp applicants?

Once you determine the composition of the Household, you also determine whether that Household is income-eligible for Food Stamps. For most Households, a gross income (which means the total before deductions) of 130% of poverty, satisfies the basic income test. If your gross income is over the limit, you are not eligible.

To apply for Food Stamps, a Household of one person must have a gross monthly income below $1,037; a Household of two persons must have a gross monthly income below $1.390; and for each additional person, add $354.

The Food Stamp office will ask about all income that you or anyone else in your Household gets or expects to get each month.

Elderly and disabled persons only have to meet the net income test.

If your gross income is over the limit, you are not eligible for Food Stamps.

Some items are not counted as cash income; such as

--Anything you do not get as cash, such as free housing, child care, or food;

--Some vendor payments (third-party payments) to someone outside your Household whom you owe money to.

--Money earned by a child under age 18, if the child is at least a half-time student;

--Irregular income if it is less than $30 in three months, and

--Cash from a charitable organization of no more than $300 in three months

--Some loans,

--One-time payments are counted as a resource, but not as cash income (things like tax refunds, insurance settlements, diversion payments or back benefits from CALWORKS, SSI, or Social Security),

--Money the federal government specifically exempts, such as WIC benefits,

--Federal payments to help you pay your fuel or energy bills (known as L.I.H.E.A.P.).

If your Household income is very low, you may be eligible for emergency (expedited) Food Stamps. You qualify to get these in three days or less, if:

--you have less than $150 in gross monthly income and $100 or less in liquid resources (such as cash on hand, checking or savings account), or if

--rent and utility expenses for that month are more than the total of your gross income, or if

--you are a migrant farm worker Household, under special circumstances.

If you meet the income and resources tests for emergency Food Stamps, you need only show the Food Stamp office simple identification (such as a license or library card) but not full documentation, in order to get the first month's benefits.

7--What are the net income maximums after deductions?

Once you define the Household, calculate gross income, and figure out resources, you can begin to calculate actual eligibility and benefit levels.

First, figure out your actual income for the month. In general, especially for new applicants, count forward (for instance, how much will be coming in next month, in wages etc.? This is called prospective budgeting), instead of counting backwards (in other words, how much did I make last month? This is called retrospective budgeting).

Next, you subtract a series of deductions from your gross income to get net income. (Net income means gross income minus allowable deductions.

--there is a standard deduction of $134 per Household.

--there is a work expense deduction which is 20% of gross earned income.

--there is a dependant care deduction, when needed for work, training or education of up to $175 per child, or up to $200 if a child is under age 2.

--there is a medical expense deduction (covering all uncovered costs over $35 per month), but only for disabled persons or persons age 60 and older. And there are shelter deductions or utility allowances (which can be calculated in several different ways; the standard is $143, but "excess" shelter costs can be up to $400 per month, and there are unlimited shelter costs for persons age 60 and older, or who are disabled.

--there is also a deduction for legally owed child support payments.

If your gross income minus deductions is below the net income cut-offs, you should be eligible for Food Stamps.

For a one-person Household, your net monthly income after deductions must be less than $798; for a two-person Household it must be below $1,070, and for each additional person, add $272.

8--How much in Food Stamps can you expect to receive each month?

The amount of Food Stamps you get depends on your Household size and your net monthly income. For a one-person Household, your Food Stamps will be an amount up to $152 per month. For a two-person Household your Food Stamps will be an amount up to $278 per month; and the amounts range up to $912 per month for an eight person Household. In general, for each additional person, add $114.

9--What are the work requirements for Food Stamps?

All those who apply for Food Stamps must register for work, with numerous exceptions. You are exempt if:

--you must take care of a child under age 6, or

--you must take care of a child over age 6 or an adult, either of whom needs help taking care of themselves, or if

--you are age 16 or 17 and not the head of household, or if

-- you are a student and in school or other employment training program at least half time, or if

--you are under age 16, or age 60 or over, or if

--you have a physical or mental problem that makes you unable to work as determined by the county, or if

--you already work at least 30 hours per week, or if

--you earn at least $154.50 a week, or if

--you are a migrant farm worker under contract to begin work within the next 30 days, or if

--you are signed up for a JTPA or CALWORKS work program, or if

--you are in an approved drug or alcohol rehabilitation program, or if

--you are registered to work for unemployment insurance (EDD).

If the Food Stamp office decides that you must register for work, they must explain to you all the work requirements. The office must explain both your rights and your responsibilities.

"Able-bodied" persons between the ages of 18 and 50 without dependent children will be entitled to only three months of Food Stamp benefits in every 36 month period, unless they are working half time, or participating in a job program half time. This group of "able-bodied adults without dependents" has been given the acronym "ABAWD" by USDA.

You are exempt from the ABAWD work requirements if:

--you live in a county that does not have to impose this provision, or if

--you are already exempt from Food Stamp work requirements under current Food Stamp law, or if

--you are medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment (this does not have to be disability as defined by Social Security -- it can be an injury or other temporary condition) or if

--you are pregnant.

If you have lost your Food Stamps because you could not find a job within three months, you can get your benefits back if, during a 30 day period, you

--work at least 80 hours, or if

--you participate in workfare, JTPA, federal/state vocational training, Food Stamp employment and training (job search does not count), or Food Stamp workfare. You must have to "work off" the value of your benefits, which does not add up to more than 80 hours per month.

10--What penalties do you face if you don't comply?

If you don't comply with a work or work training requirement, or if you quit your job without good cause, you can be cut off from Food Stamps until you correct the problem. The first time you don't comply, you can be denied Food Stamps for at least one month. The second time, you can be denied Food Stamps at least three months. The third time and after, you can be denied Food Stamps for at least six months. However, only the person breaking the rules will be denied, not the whole Household. If you are penalized for any reason, you can get back on the program if you become exempt from having to register to work.

The term "good cause," for quitting a job or not doing a work project, includes events beyond your control, such as illness, injury, transportation problems, bad weather, inability to speak or write in the English language, a household emergency, or lack of adequate child care for a child age 6 to 12.

If you are getting CALWORKS, general assistance or general relief, remember that these are separate programs from Food Stamps. You may get a penalty in one that will not affect the other, or you may get a penalty that affects both your cash aid and your Food Stamps.

11--What if you disagree with your county's decision in your Food Stamp case?

Food stamp applicants and participants have the right to appeal decisions made about their cases by requesting a state hearing. You can ask for a state hearing in person, by telephone, or in writing. You must request the hearing within 90 days after the Food Stamps office did what you think is wrong. If you act fast and request a state hearing before the effective date of a county's action to reduce or end your Food Stamps, then your Food Stamps will continue while you wait for your state hearing. State hearings are held by the State Department of Social Services. The hearing and decision must all take place within 60 days after you first ask for the hearing.

At a state hearing, you have the right to:

--be represented by an advocate, lawyer, friend, or simply go yourself.

--you also have the right to see your file and get a full free copy of any papers you need to prepare for the hearing.

--you have the right to bring witnesses to support what you are saying, and to ask questions of other witnesses the Food Stamp office brings.

You have the right to talk to the hearing officer, and submit documents as evidence.

The State Department of Social Services toll free number to request a state hearing is 1-800-952-5253.

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