SNAP is not the only food benefit program.
- Pregnant women and parents of young children may qualify for the WIC program.
- Seniors may be able to get monthly food boxes containing nutritious foods.
- Children from low-income families can benefit from free or reduced-price school meals.
The rapidly rising cost of living has put pressure on the bank balances of many Americans. The cost of food, housing, gasoline and other basic necessities has skyrocketed, and many people’s wages have not kept pace. The USDA estimates that more than one in 10 households experienced food insecurity last year, with more than 33 million Americans living in food-insecure households.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food assistance program in the United States and has been a lifeline for many households in recent years. It’s helped more than 40 million families in 2021. But that money is only going so far, and some households aren’t eligible for SNAP benefits at all. If you’re struggling to feed your family in December, SNAP isn’t the only program available: you may be eligible for additional help. There are also various local initiatives to help people put a Christmas meal on the table.
1. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
Usually referred to as WIC, the Women, Infants and Children program provides assistance to low-income women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children under five. Not only does it provide food assistance, but the program also offers nutrition and health services.
The program is run by individual states and provides nutritious foods such as milk, cheese, cereal, eggs, whole wheat bread and canned fish. The USDA estimates it served more than 40% of all infants in the United States last year.
2. Commodity Complementary Food Program (CSFP)
The CSFP prepares monthly food boxes for the elderly. The idea is to give seniors additional nutritious foods such as fruit juices, canned beans, meat and vegetables, cheese and cereals to supplement their diet. Individual states run their own programs, but in most cases, people over the age of 60 with an income below 130% of the federal poverty level will be eligible. If you are already receiving SNAP benefits, you may also be eligible for CSFP – there is nothing stopping you from receiving both.
3. The National School Meals Program (NSLP)
The school meals program was started in 1946 and aims to provide children from low-income households with free or reduced-price school meals. Some schools also participate in a free school breakfast program. These initiatives mean that children from low-income families can benefit from reduced or free meals at school.
Children can qualify in several ways. Children from households already receiving SNAP benefits are automatically eligible, as are those living in foster care. Otherwise, it depends on family size and income levels.
During summer vacation, there is a group of related programs called Summer Meals for Kids. Run by a mix of community groups, schools and other local organisations, the idea is to ensure that children can access free lunches even during the holidays. To find out what programs are running near you, No Kid Hungry runs a free text message service – text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304 and enter your zip code.
4. Pantries and soup kitchens
There is a network of pantry and meal programs (more commonly known as soup kitchens) in operation across the United States. They are served by food banks, which are not open to the public. They are more like warehouses that distribute food to various organizations.
Pantries work in different ways, so it’s worth checking when your local pantries are open and what their requirements are. You may have to wait in line, so it’s a good idea to arrive early. Soup kitchens serve hot food for free or at reduced cost to those in need. They often operate out of vans or pop-up buildings and, like food pantries, are mostly run by volunteers.
Do an online search to learn more about food pantries or meal programs in your area. United Way (2-1-1) maintains a database of foods and other supports you may be eligible for. You can also call the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479.
5. Christmas food aid
If you’re unsure how to put food on the table this Christmas, there may be some extra help at hand. There is no specific national program, although Feeding America, which operates a number of food banks and food pantries, works to prevent hunger during the holiday season.
Contact your local pantries, soup kitchens, charities, and church or community groups to find out if they have a Christmas program available. See what your local Salvation Army is doing or find a family’s adoption programs running near you. In addition to food, you can find organizations that collect toys for people in need. If you’re not sure where to start, call 2-1-1 to find out about holiday assistance in your area.
At the end of the line
The rising cost of living has caused many Americans to dip into their savings accounts or go into debt to pay for their food. Unfortunately, those who were already struggling to cover their bills and put money aside were the hardest hit by the spike in prices. If you have trouble getting food on the table, find out what help you may be entitled to. The more you can save on groceries, the more you will have to cover other essential expenses.
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