Sunday, February 10, 2013

Errors In Food Stamp Monthly Allotments?

State Agencies Might Be Making Errors In Calculations

LABELLE, FL. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also called "food stamp" or "food assistance" allocates up to $200 monthly per person to buy nutritious food and drink items.

But many food assistance recipients find local state agencies may be making erroneous calculations, depriving families of assistance payments to which they may be entitled.

Food stamp allotments are roughly determined by the amount of "excess" housing costs over income. If your housing costs are more than 25% of your income, and you have low to middle income, you should be entitled to monthly food assistance payments.

The program run by each state, is designed to give additional assistance to individuals and families with low to middle incomes but large housing expenses including rents, mortgages, and utility costs. Federal rules also provide additional help to persons 60 or older and the disabled.

Most states provide online applications and provide handy calculators to determine if a family might be eligible. A few states have online calculators that actually provide a very good estimate of the monthly allotment amount the family should receive.

Recipients of food assistance are provided an EBT card to pay for groceries at most every food store in the nation, used just like a debit card.

But, difficulties arise when calculating the actual monthly benefit because the rules among the different states are often confusing even to agency personnel, and very hard for the public to even find. State agency personnel make the actual calculations but usually don't tell clients what numbers they are entering and how they come up with the monthly allotment, so there's no way to check for accuracy.

To see if you may qualify and for how much, you need to know a few numbers. Applicants need to know their "earned income" monthly, i.e. wages or earning from a job or self-employment.  Secondly, "unearned" income needs to be known.  "Unearned" means income from interest, or any income earned passively. (Real estate rental income is "unearned" unless 20 or more hours are spent weekly managing properties.)

A 20% deduction is taken from earned income, but not unearned income, so it's important to state on the application which income is earned to gain the additional deductions.

Deductions subtracted from gross income include all housing expenses and medical expenses. So, know what your rent or mortgage payments are including property taxes and insurance, and any mandatory home owner association or condo fees.

However, the first $35 of monthly medical expenses don't get deducted, only amounts over that.

Additionally a "standard" utility allowance deduction is subtracted by the agency for electric, water, and phone. Most state require this "standard" deduction be used instead of actual household costs.

In Florida, for example, the standard deduction is $338 for a household that pays for heating or air conditioning. And $278 if not using heat or A.C. Other states have different numbers. Look up your state here: (Chart of Standard Utility Allowances by State)

Unfortunately, the online applications do not make clear what number to enter for utility expenses, and therefore it's not clear if agency personnel are correctly entering the standard utility allowance or the actual costs clients state on their application.

To check to see how much monthly assistance might be for differing incomes and housing expenses, try this simple Food Assistance Calculator from the state of North Dakota. (Note you will have to look up your state's Standard Utility Allowance in the chart mentioned above, since each state is different.)

Check here for more information about each State's programs: Food Assistance Program By State

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