The caretaker of a family is tasked with a lot of extra mental load that other members of the family don’t deal with. One of those extra responsibilities is ensuring that everyone is fed. That responsibility alone involves list-making, shopping, and then cooking multiple times per day. That alone is difficult for many people without any added financial stress! It is more important than ever that families understand their options, especially with the growing cost of basic grocery items. Fortunately, there are opportunities that a household can qualify for that can reduce the financial burden of groceries! Some food assistance programs offer monthly benefits to go towards the cost of food items. While others can provide a child with a meal while they’re in school. The best program for you depends on what type of support you can benefit from the most!
What Food Assistance Programs Are Out There?
Each food assistance program serves a different purpose. In order to understand what program is best for your situation, you need to know what each program is all about. Food assistance programs that you can consider include:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
- School Breakfast Program (SBP)
- Special Milk Program (SMP)
- Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
- Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFNMP)
- Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
If you have heard of food stamps then you have heard of SNAP. SNAP originated decades ago with the goal to help households struggling financially. This program helps millions of people each year with the cost of groceries. Each month, recipients get funds that they can spend on qualifying food items. Additionally, SNAP benefits can only be used at participating stores. Recipients are able to make their purchases using an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which works similarly to a debit card. If you are interested in benefiting from SNAP, you will need to contact your state agency. The exact criteria and application process is different depending on where you live.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
WIC is available thanks to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This program is able to provide necessary services through 1,900 agencies and 10,000 clinics! You will find that these services are provided through county health departments, schools, hospitals, and more. There are a total of 89 WIC agencies in the U.S. These agencies administer nutritional support to the recipients. There are roughly 47,000 authorized retailers that accept WIC.
While other assistance programs are focused on solving a specific problem, WIC goes one step further by providing help to a certain population. Specifically, WIC provides support to pregnant women, as well as women who are postpartum or breastfeeding. Additionally, they provide support to infants up to one year old and children up to five years old. This assistance option does not only provide nutritional support. Other benefits that these eligible groups can receive are education and counseling on nutrition at WIC clinics. They also provide certain screenings. Lastly, they provide referrals for things like social and welfare services and healthcare. If you think you could benefit from this opportunity, you’ll want to contact your local or state agency. You can get in touch with a WIC office by calling or visiting their website.
Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)
Women and children that qualify for WIC are also eligible to receive additional benefits with FMNP. The program functions off of grants that states receive from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). WIC recipients get coupons from FMNP to use towards certain food items. However, there are some exceptions. Babies younger than four months old do not receive these coupons. They can be used to purchase food from farmer’s markets, and roadside stands, as well as directly from farmers. In addition to that, it’s important to know that these businesses need approval in order to accept FMNP coupons. If you are interested in getting more information about this program, your state WIC FMNP Agency is the best place to turn to. Their contact information can be found online.
National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
NSLP provides nutritional support to the children of qualifying families while in school. They do this by providing the child with a balanced meal each day in school. It is of no cost or a reduced cost to the parent(s) of the receiving child. Keep in mind, in order to qualify for no-cost meals, the family must have an income that is not higher than 130% of the poverty level. Families that don’t qualify for no-cost meals because their income is too high may still qualify for reduced-cost meals instead. A household with an income between 130 – 185% of the poverty line could qualify for this. In addition to that, a household could also qualify for NSLP if they are already a recipient of another federal program like SNAP or TANF. You will find that this program is provided in both public and private schools.
Schools that run this program are reimbursed for the food they serve at either no cost or a reduced cost. The meals that are served are required to meet certain nutritional requirements. The meals must provide at least ⅓ of the necessary daily nutrients. Just like WIC, this program is also provided by the FNS of the USDA. However, much like many federal government assistance programs, NSLP is operated by state agencies. This is done through contracts made with school administrators. If you are interested in this program, the best resource for more insights is your state agency. Information on how to contact your state’s NSLP is available online.
School Breakfast Program (SBP)
SBP is a federal program that provides breakfast for free or at a reduced cost to qualifying children when school is in session. Schools that take part in the program are reimbursed with cash subsidies. This is another program on this list that is offered by the FNS of the USDA. However, operations are based on agreements made between schools and the state agencies that run the program. The schools that can run SBP include non-profit private schools, public schools, charter schools, and residential child-care facilities.
Children that qualify for SBP meet certain criteria. When reviewing a family, the program considers factors like household size and income level. However, families that are already participating in programs like Head Start, SNAP, or others can qualify for SBP. Other children that are eligible include migrants, foster children, runaways, and those experiencing homelessness. If you think you could benefit from this program, contact your state SBP agency. You can go online or call their office.
Special Milk Program (SMP)
SMP provides free milk to qualifying children at school. However, the program does specify the type and quality of milk that can be offered. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines the levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D that the milk must have. Not only that, the milk must be pasteurized as well as low-fat or fat-free. In addition to those requirements, the quality must also satisfy state and local requirements.
Families who don’t already benefit from other federal child nutrition programs may be eligible for SMP. Places like schools, certain camps, and childcare facilities participate in this program. The program pays them back by reimbursing them for the milk they serve to children. If you would like to know more about this option, contact your SMP state agency.
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
This program is commonly known as the Summer Meals Program. Therefore, it is not surprising that they offer free meals during the summer months! SFSP provides these meals to children and teens up until the age of 18 years old. The schools that operate this program are reimbursed for the meals they give away. Although SFSP is federally funded, it is state-operated. The state agencies that operate this program partner with sites and sponsors to make it happen, but what is the role of each partner?
Sponsors can consist of schools, non-profit organizations, camps, and local government agencies. They will typically be offered reimbursements, as well as the opportunity to manage more than one site. Therefore, it is essential that the selected sponsor is able to handle the program.
Sites and sponsors work together to offer meals to kids. These can be located in many places. These are supervised and safe places where eligible children can go to get their meals. Examples are community centers, parks, health clinics, hospitals, churches, migrant centers, and apartment complexes.
These agencies are responsible for managing SFSP and communicating with the USDA. They are responsible for contacting sponsors in order to operate the program. Then sponsors report to them when they want to enter into a contract to run the program.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
This program helps a different group of people than all of the options we have mentioned so far. CSFP can help by supplementing their meals with nutritious foods from the USDA. In order to do this, CSFP delivers both money and food to states and Indian Tribal Organizations that are taking part in the program. There are a few eligibility requirements that vary by state. However, regardless of state, CSFP aims to help low-income seniors that are at least 60 years old.
The goal of CSFP is to better the health of low-income seniors. Rather than provide a recipient’s entire diet, they aim to provide necessary nutrients that may be missing from the diet. Local agencies are tasked with deciding who qualifies, distributing the food, and other functions of the program. These local agencies can be public, non-profit, or private.
TEFAP provides emergency food assistance to people in need at no cost. This federal program helps low-income people of various ages. People in need can benefit from TEFAP directly through local organizations. Examples of these places are soup kitchens, food pantries, and community action agencies. Local organizations receive this food to distribute. First, the USDA purchases high-quality and nutrient-rich foods that get distributed to food banks or other relevant agencies. Then local organizations pick up the food they provide from these food banks.
One of the factors that determine the amount of food that is allocated to state agencies is the income level of the state’s residents. The program takes into account the number of households with an income below the poverty level. The USDA also considers the unemployment rate for that state. If you would like more information about this, you can find the contact information to your state’s distributing agency on the FNS website. They will be able to provide you with the best answers!
Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
Low-income seniors that are older than 60 can benefit from this program. The income requirement determines that an individual’s income cannot be greater than 185% of the poverty level. The goal of SFMNP is to increase the access seniors have to fruit, vegetables, honey, and herbs that are locally grown. However, this isn’t the only purpose of the program. They also work to raise local consumption of agricultural products. They do this through roadside stands, local farmer’s markets, and community-sanctioned programs. In addition to this, SFMNP also works to develop new markets, stands, and programs!
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
The final federal program is CACFP. More than 3 million children and 100,000 adults benefit from food reimbursed by CACFP each day! This program reimburses child and adult daycare centers for the meals and nutritious snacks that they supply each day. In addition to these places, qualifying after-school programs and emergency shelters can receive reimbursements.
Food can be a large expense that many families face. However, it is a necessary expense essential for survival and quality of life. There are various programs that the government offers to help households with the cost of food. Some federal programs provide monthly assistance that can go directly towards groceries. Others provide food directly to children while in and out of school. No matter your situation, there may be help available to you! The program that will best suit your needs is dependent on your current circumstances. In order to determine whether or not you qualify for these programs, you can get more information from the appropriate agency.