As the cost of food continues to rise, more families are finding the need for government assistance to provide food. Although the food stamp program is the one most commonly associated with needy families, there are many other programs. Most are administered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and both individuals and families may qualify for these, depending on circumstances. While there is no guarantee benefits are available, it is best to call and talk to someone in any of the various programs before ruling one out.
Apply for food stamps. Now called SNAP, the USDA-handled program feeds 35 million people. Contact your local SNAP office (look online or in the "government" section of your local phone book) to complete an application and/or see if you qualify for the program. Monthly benefits are given on a card--similar to a debit or credit card--and run through a machine at any grocer that accepts the program.
Contact the USDA to ask about eligibility in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or CACFP. This program works to reimburse meals for some day cares, low-income families and adult day-care centers; additionally, it provides meals to children in shelters, and some meals to children in after-school programs.
Check with the WIC program for qualification requirements. This "Women, Infants, Children" program provides federal money to states for food, health care and education on nutrition to women who are pregnant and/or nursing, or non-nursing new mothers, as well as to babies and children who may be at risk for poor nutrition. The program covers children up to 5 years of age.
Verify whether you qualify for the National Services Incentive Program (formerly the Nutrition Program for the Elderly, or NCE). This program falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Administration on Aging, and provides funds for nutritious meals to be delivered to older adults who may not eat well otherwise. This program is open to those who are 60 or older, which qualifies a spouse who may still be under 60.
Inquire about the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for children through the USDA. The largest federal resource available, it provides funding for local organizations that work to combine meals with a summer activity program for at-risk children, usually those who qualify for a school lunch program.
- As program phone numbers vary per state, look in your phone book's "government section" to find your local USDA number.
- All programs have strict requirements for age and eligibility, and an application process is required.
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