Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) —formerly known as the Food Stamp program— provides Americans struggling to make ends meet with much-needed assistance to purchase food for their families. Each month, SNAP helps 3 million low-income seniors (age 60+) put food on the table, with an average benefit of $122/month.
Who is eligible and what expenses count?
Only 34% of eligible older adults participate in SNAP, the lowest rate among all demographic groups. One barrier to SNAP enrollment is the myth that older adults are only eligible for $15/month in benefits. While it is true that some seniors would only be eligible for that amount, many are missing out on deductions that can help establish eligibility and also increase the value of SNAP benefits dramatically.
Households with an older person (60+) or a person with a disability are eligible for the medical expense deduction, which allows the elderly/disabled to deduct monthly medical expenses beyond $35 from their gross income, as long as they are not paid by insurance or someone else. There is no cap on this deduction up to the maximum benefit amount, making it extremely valuable for those with high medical expenses. Currently, only about 14% of seniors enrolled in SNAP take the medical deduction, but 55% of SNAP-eligible seniors would qualify to use it.
Even seniors enrolled in the Low-Income Subsidy for Medicare Part D (LIS) and Medicare Savings Program (MSP) may have unreimbursed out-of-pocket costs in excess of $35 that would be eligible. Federal regulations allow many medically recommended procedures and supplies to count toward the medical deduction, including:
- Medical/dental care
- Hospitalization and nursing home costs
- Costs of health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-pays (including Medicare)
- Dentures, hearing aids, prosthetics
- Costs associated with owning a service dog
- Eye glasses prescribed by an optometrist or specialist
- Transportation and lodging costs incurred to obtain medical treatment, including mileage (calculated at federal rate = 56.5¢/mile in FY13)
- Attendant, home health aide, homemaker, or child care services
- Over-the-counter and prescription drugs, vitamins, supplies, and equipment
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, or FNS, oversees SNAP; however, each state determines eligibility and delivers the benefits. Most households must meet an income and a resource test for SNAP. However, some people are automatically eligible for SNAP because they get Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
How do SNAP benefits work?
People who qualify for SNAP get their benefits through a special card called an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. The EBT card works just like a debit card. Program participants buy their groceries at a participating food store and, using the card, the cost is taken out of the account linked to their card.
SNAP benefits are loaded onto the EBT card on a monthly basis. Participant benefits can accrue up to 6 months, so if the participant does not spend their SNAP allotment in one month, unused funds will carry over to the next.
Amanda Smith, Benefits Outreach Coordinator
This project is funded under an agreement with the State of Tennessee. This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.