Could You Survive On Food Stamps?

Marina Shifrin

By , Staff Writer
Posted on Mon Jan 23, 2012

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As the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) grows in enrollment numbers, Republican candidates are blaming Obama for the increase in food stamp demand in the past years. This latest debate has gotten many Americans, currently on SNAP, asking politicians to “spend some time in their shoes.”

We can only hope that you are fortunate enough to never need SNAP, but for 46 million Americans, food stamps are a necessity and reality. So, are you up for the challenge of seeing what it would be like if you needed food stamps?

According to Stacy Dean, the vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, about three-fourths of SNAP participants have children in their households, and over one-fourth have seniors or people with special needs in their households.

When there is more than one individual in the picture, it can become difficult to keep a balanced budget and live off the limited funds provided by the government.

To really know what it’s like to be on food stamps you have to look into the numbers.

The charts below explain who is eligible and can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture site, along with a pre-screening tool. One of the first things reviewed is your household income:

Family SizeMonthly Gross IncomeAnnual Gross Income
1$ 1,180$ 14,160
2$ 1,594$ 19,128
3$ 2,008$ 24,096
4$ 2,422$ 29,064
Additional People$ 414 +$ 4,968 +

As you can see, it has to be quite a desperate situation to even qualify for food stamps. The latest census figures concerning American housing show that an average American pays around $1,024 a month in housing costs in 2009. This figure was calculated by taking the average Monthly Housing Costs between the two largest categories of total occupied units.

Let’s say you were making $14,160 a year, nearly 90% ($12,288) of your paycheck would go towards rent alone. The government understands the volatile jobs market and unstable economy has put a great financial strain on many Americans and this is why there are options like SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers anywhere from $200 to $1,202 depending on the size of the household.

Family SizeMonthly Gross IncomeAnnual Gross IncomePeople in HouseholdMaximum Monthly Allotment
1$ 1,180$ 14,1601$200
2$ 1,594$ 19,1282$367
3$ 2,008$ 24,0963$526
4$ 2,422$ 29,0644$668
Additional People$ 414 +$ 4,968 +5$793
6$952
7$1,052
8$1,202
Additional People$150

Could You Live Off This Much?

To get a more accurate count for how much you’d be eligible for with your income, you have to take the net household income and multiply it by 30 percent and round up. Next you must subtract this figure from the maximum allotment for your household, and you end up with your monthly SNAP allotment. For example:

If you earn $1,074 and multiply it by 0.3, you’ll get $322.20 ($323). If you have four in your household, you must subtract $323 from $668 and you’ll end up with $345 in SNAP allotment for the month.

Each household has different dining methods. Since I am a single earner, I often go out to eat and rarely grocery shop. But if I were to lose my job, and need to go on SNAP, clearly I would not be eating at restaurants. On average, I spend between $60-$75 per week at the grocery store, this means I would have to cut out a few food items and become more of a bargain shopper if I were to need food stamps, considering the highest amount given out per month for individuals is $200.

Although I believe I could easily make the life changes needed to be able to make the SNAP benefits work for my diet, no one wants to have to compromise when it comes to getting the nutrition needed. If you have had any experiences with actually going on food stamps we would love to hear your story! Share with us below:

 

Post a Comment

  • Mortgage Realestate

    4 years ago I made good money. Since then the real estate and mortgage business has gone south. I live on $900 SSI per month and $178 in food stamps. It’s not easy. I have to pay $50 per month to keep my Multiple Listing privilege and $80 for my cell number. If I lose those then I may as well give up because I’ll never  get out of poverty without them. Ask me how much I hate the libs who ruined the RE business. Ask me how much I hate all F****** politicians in general.  

    • James Huffer

      So you believe that the republicans who screwed you are the democrats you now hate today? You were way to stupid to have a job in the first place my friend.

      • Fadra_99

        You are Mean! James Huffer

  • MomOf4inVA

    I have a family of four, including two teenage boys, and also provide food and care for my 60 pound dog. I am careful about my spending, plan my menu around what’s on sale, use coupons, and we eat very well. In no way do I spend $167 a week which is what SNAP recipients receive per the chat above. The idea that if you go on SNAP, you ‘may have to cut back’ is a joke. Let’s face it- almost ALL Americans have ‘cut back.’ What kills me is that if you qualify for SNAP in my state, your children automatically qualify for free breakfast and lunch at school, so you only have to feed them ONE meal a day! Please quit the griping and realize if you live in United States and are poor, you are the best taken care of poor in the world. I was born into poverty and worked my way out of it, but you’ve got to assume responsibility of yourself in order to do so. Stay in the FREE schooling provided for you and keep your nose out of the bad stuff, and you’ll be fine. I’ll probably never be rich, but I provide for myself family without climbing on the backs of those who are working and then whining about what someone else’s work provides for you.

    • Guest

      sorry but that is $167 per MONTH, not weekly.

      • Truegrebel

         Actually, as a family of 4….. she DOES mean $167 per week. Chart says 668/month for 4… divide by 4 weeks per month….. 167/week

    • 123youknowme

      I’m a mother of two teens and an infant, as well as a wife of a man who is disabled, yet still manages to try to work, though he does not make much.  Our infant was an unexpected blessing (protection was used) and because I lost my job almost 4 years ago making great money, I am still fighting to find a job.  I do receive SNAP and WIC, and I just want to tell you that it is barely just enough with all the prices of everything going up so drastically.  I’m also very educated with a Masters degree and have struggled to find any kind of job over the last 3 1/2 years.  You are only partially right about those free meals from the schools.  Yes, they do provide them, but they are so disgusting that my children do not eat them.  I thought they were crazy until I went to the school to have lunch with them. They were absolutely right!  I also use coupons with my SNAP benefits.  I hate being on them.  It’s degrading to me when I used to pull in great money on my own.  But, we do what we need to do  to feed our children.  I’ll never be rich, and I used to be quite judgemental about those in my situation, but until you are there you have no business judging anyone else!

      • Asdalford

        I needed to get a job three years ago because my husband lost a good paying job. Guess what? I found one in one day. It did not pay as much as I would liked but it payed the bills. There are plenty of jobs out there for people who actually want to work.
        I also have two children and never have received any kind of government help. So yes it can be done when someone has the will and pride to do it. 

  • Ttakac

    after the loss of my high paying job, i find my family needing snaps. it is insane yes insane to think a family of 5 can feed them selves on 376 a month. I worked non-stop for 20 years and am drawing the max in unemployment. So that means my family only gets 376 in benifits. I still have a house payment i still have health insurance to pay not to mention elctric gas water gas for the car ( thsank god is payed off)and clothes for the children and so on. you should be getting the picture by now. It is not enough. Do i pay the bills that are a need of do i feed my family? People who think only the poor are taking up these benifits  are wrong. People are loosing there jobs! People still have to live!  We as a nation have a whole new set of poor folk.

  • guest

    I eat like a king for 200 a month. A little wine would be nice with my meal though…

  • MNmommy

    Well..my hubby and I have 7 children (expecting #8) and we’ve never used food stamps, even though we’ve always qualified. My husband brought home a whopping 39,000 gross income this year..the most he’s ever made. My grocery budget for food is about 600/month (and we eat pretty well, imo) I have two teen boys  (Yes, they can EAT) and we homeschool..so all their food comes from my budget..not free school lunches. Just saying..it can be done. We are blessed that hubby has a steady job.. I understand some people have no choice..but I think all too often, it’s not left as a last-resort.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F423SWOE4QXMOWEUKYOGE5CGB4 William

    No I could

  • GodsgraceDL07

    I don’t think they should be allowed to buy candy, cokes or watery drinks, sugary juices, and a lot of other things that are not really needed for them. And to many of them are selling those food stamps instead of useing them because they give them so many we had someone yrs ago come to our house and ask if we wanted to buy some because they got 500+ a month and didn’t need that many. We saidno its not right and we could use the food stamps ourselves but can’t get them. we make to much a month with doctor  bills and other bills we don’t make enough sometimes to get a lot of food.

    • shelea1

      good trick, since food stamps are issued on debit cards.

  • Anonymous

    We’re retired.  No way on this earth do I spend $367 (that’s the max of what’s on the chart for 2 people) a month on food.   A typical breakfast: either cereal w/fruit or bacon and eggs with a glass of OJ or grapefruit juice.  Lunch is a sandwich (lunchmeat, tuna salad, pb&j, etc.) on whole wheat bread with fruit on the side and a small handful of chips.  Dinner can be steaks, hamburgers, salmon patties, home-made corned beef hash, fish fillets, chicken breasts, etc. with a side of rice, pasta, or potatoes, veggies, and fruit.   Last week I bought 14 New York steaks for $60.70 (on sale, $5.99/lb.).  One of those steaks will do for both of us (they’re 11-12 oz. each).  In our freezer we have ground sirloin, steaks, chicken, and a spiral sliced ham; also frozen fruit (3 1/2 gal. of blackberries from our own bushes), frozen veggies, and breads (that I buy at the thrift store).  We eat very well, as I buy items that are either in quantity or on sale (or both).  A lot of our canned goods are purchased at The Grocery Outlet.  The main thing is this:  buy as much unprocessed food as possible…a bag of potatoes vs. boxed potatoes, bags of rice vs. processed rice in a box.  Cereals are purchased when on sale for $1.99-$2.50 per box when you buy 5 or more.  It can be done, but if you buy deli items, pre-made cookies, sodas, or junk food…forget it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E6QRPP5W6IO2SJBAMFTUBQ5YZQ FRED

    Cant??  How the hell do they get so fat?

    • shelea1

      Starchy food is cheap. Meat and veggies aren’t.

  • Bill

    I manage on roughly $1500.00 a month, disability and a small pension. I’ve an extremely small SNAP benefit of about $15 a month, meat is a treat, this month it was a slice of ham cut into 4 pieces. I survive mostly on rice and pasta. I never miss the monthly meal at my fraternal lodge, $10. A pound of hot dogs will last me 10 days to 2 weeks. I manage on 2 meals a day.

  • Make Your Own Happiness

    Wow Bill, that is seriously austere. 
    I was on food stamps for about 6 months over 15 years ago with my husband.  I recall them giving us just over $200 dollars because we had no income at the time (so we got the max) as we were looking for work but hadn’t found anything yet.  Honestly, I couldn’t believe HOW MUCH they gave us in food stamps (when they were in a bill/stamp form, now they are a credit card and NO YOU CAN”T SELL THEM).  When we got work, I went down to the office and gave my social worker the extra stamps I had left over – she was shocked.  I was shocked that she apparently had never had this happen to her before.
    I had been approached by quite a few people with food stamps at that time, wanting me to buy theirs for half their value but the entire encounter was shocking and dirty (and of course, they didn’t know I was on food stamps and had a SURPLUS of them in my wallet – I didn’t want anymore!)
    I totally disagree with the “limiting” what foods you can buy when you are on food stamps.  For the LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE, when you are on food stamps, you NEED to have some joy in your life, even if it is just a bottle A&W root beer….have some humanity for dog’s sake. 
    MOST people do not qualify for the maximum because most people are either on unemployment or have managed to find part time work, so don’t be too impressed with those numbers, a great majority of people on food stamps are getting far less.  
    A lot of good people are on food stamps now.  All the folks that fell through the cracks when they were struck by unemployment and then after 99 weeks of some kind of payment, in which they slowly and painfully went broke, lost their homes, families fell apart and maybe, just maybe, someone is letting them sleep on their couch tonight and they might qualify for food stamps tomorrow.  This has become the American story.

  • AgathaX

    This is really not a huge hardship.  Mostly its a lifestyle adjustment.  The people best suited to making it work are fairly well educated people who know enough to avoid most meat and processed foods, bake their own bread, and shop wisely.  Of course, fewer of these people end up on food stamps. For the most part, however, in this country, if people go hungry it is about life skills more than it is lack of resources.  (Though, I suppose one could argue it takes more resources to compensate for lack of life skills.)

     I know someone who has at times both received foodstamps and lived amongst others who do.  The folks I met were not people who once earned reasonable wages and fell on hard times.  These folks are the underclass.  They buy meat and processed foods when the benefits arrive and ramen noodles when they are gone.  If they buy vegetables at all they get canned.  One of them recently told me with some surprise that frozen vegetables are cheaper than canned–and taste better. 

    Poor folks who grew up in the country do better than poor folks who grew up in the city or in semi-rural/ suburban trailer park type settings. They have experience with gardens, and even if they can’t sustain a garden where they are, they know what to do with a 75 cent head of cabbage or  bag of carrots.   

  • watermelon53

    Food stamps are definitely a nice safety net for many people and most probably don’t abuse the system. But when you see people on SNAP, also getting lifetime Section 8 housing, welfare benefits, free cell phones, free school lunches, etc, many live better than people who are out there working their tails off. Many of these people will continue to irresponsibly have kids they cannot afford and will always be parasites. 
    I watched a lady load about 20 steaks and 4 large bags of shrimp on the belt, use her SNAP card to pay, walk out to her Mercedes, leave the cart, and drive away. The cashier says she does it every month. Some people need a meteor to land on them…

  • Anahharris

    I have been on Food Stamps for the past year, since my husband lost his job.  It has been a big help.  However, since our income has been very low, we received much more than enough to pay for the food we need (more than we ever budgeted for food when my husband was well paid).
    I must admit it is a strange situation to be in when you can buy steak for dinner, but cannot afford other essentials like toilet paper, clothes, or gas for the car.