How to Get Food Stamps
"I'd like to apply for food stamps," I told the receptionist through the glass wall separating her from the people patiently waiting to be seen.
I had just entered the windowless building at 121 Catherine Street that holds the county's Department of Social Services. A little light sifted through the glass door entrance, but in general the fortress-like structure did not look welcoming to the public.
The receptionist handed me a sheet of paper with a list of items, like driver's license, social security card, checkbook, current lease, rent receipt, etc.
"Do you have all these things with you?" she asked in a bored monotone. "If not, you should get them before you come back. They can't process you without them, so if you ï don't have them . . ."
Obviously, it wasn't only the appearance of the building that discouraged people. Since I didn't have all the things on the list (after all, who carries a lease around with them?), she handed me an application form and told me to come I back the next day.
"Mornings are our slow. time," she said, more positive now ![ that I was leaving.
THE GREAT DISCOURAGEMENT
The point of this article is to explain how to get food stamps. Although the government is obligated to publicize the food stamp program, no funds actually go for that cause. In fact, as anyone who applies for stamps quickly finds out, the government will do everything it can to discourage people from ever applying. In America, welfare is not seen as a right of people thrown out of work, or paid low wages because some wealthy stock owner is reaping all the profits. Welfare recipients are maligned by politicians and the press, always pointing to the "welfare cheaters."
The Department of Social Services will probably not treat you much better. The food stamps will not just be handed to you because you are eligible by all the rules. You will be forced to open not only your checkbook to the interviewer, but your entire lifestyle. A case worker will even come out to inspect your house.
THE OFFICIAL REQUIREMENTS
One person in four is eligible for food stamps, but less than half of those apply. If you live on a small budget, are unemployed, in school, have high medical bills or live off social security, you may be eligible.
Food stamp eligibility is determined on the basis of households. If you live with other people and buy food together, you are all considered one household. If you live alone, or live with other people but eat alone, then you are a separate household. To get food stamps. you must live where there are kitchen facilities.
The next point is income. Income for a single person "household" can not exceed $210 per month, for four people, not over $373. Beyond monthly income, no applicant can have more than $1500 in the bank.
If you are unemployed, you must be registered with the Michigan Employment Security Commission and actively seeking work. Full time students, or people working full time for low wages are exempt from the work requirement.
If you meet the above requirements, you're ready to go to 121 Catherine and fill out an application. The office is open 8 a.m. to noon, and 1-5 p.m. This is where it starts to I get tough.
HOW TO APPLY
Only the head of a household can apply. In a cooperative situation, someone can be designated head of household, and must take required verifications for all members of the household. At least one item from each of the following is required, and you won't even be allowed to talk to a case worker without it.
1. Proof of residence in Washtenaw County: driver's license, recent rent receipt, lease, recent bilis, recent mail, identification cards.
2. Proof of shelter expenses: recent rent, house payment, or tax receipt; checkbook entry, utility expense. (This is one of the trickier ones, and you'll probably want all of these. If you live with other people and are renting, a copy of the lease will be required. Absolute proof of rent payment for the current month is also required. If you wrote the check out to a housemate instead of the landlord, get a receipt from the landlord.)
3. Proof of unusual continuing expenses: recent medical insurance payment, medical receipts and prescriptions not covered by insurance, dental receipts, or support payments.
4. Proof of income: check stubs, MECS card for unemployment benefits (or to show you're registered for work — they do check), award letters for social security and/or veterans benefits, proof of child support, proof of student loans and expenses, proof of income received (or not received) from parents.
5. Verification of liquid assets: check book, savings book, stocks and bonds, credit union deposits, cash on hand, property including boats, campers, real estate, etc. (Once again, you need all these.)
TALKING TO A CASE WORKER
Once you have all this together, go to DSS, fill out an application and prepare for at least an hour and a half wait.
Once called, you will be escorted to a small office where each entry on your application will be questioned at least once, and every document you have brought will be required. The grilling can be intense, and is not meant to be pleasant. Just keep reminding yourself that the food stamps are your right, and don't be intimidated.
If you pass at this stage, there may still be other obstacles. Usually, a case worker will be sent to your house to check on the kitchen facilities. If you are unemployed, your job registration at MESC will be checked. Most likely, you will be told that you will be notified if you will finally get the food stamps.
If you are working, the case worker may give you stamps for an indefinite period. For the unemployed, bi-weekly or monthly waits in the dimly lit lobby to see another case worker are required.
The food stamps are given based on income. A single person gets $46 per month, two get $82, three get $118, etc. If unemployed, these stamps are free. The closer a person comes to the maximum income for receiving food stamps, the more he/she will pay. But even $20 or $30 for $46 worth of food stamps is a bargain unbeatable in the grocery.
Once certified, a coupon comes in the mail with two choices for buying stamps, one for less stamps for less money, one for the full amount. The coupons are redeemable at local banks, where the money is paid, and the coupons are given out. The food stamps, for amounts of $2 or 50¢ amounts, are useable at most stores that sell food, the same as money. The can not be used for most imported food, or for alcoholic beverages.
SOME HASSLE-FREE SUGGESTIONS
For many young people in A2, eligibility will be as single person household, although living with others. Even if you actually eat together, you may want to apply separately and state you eat alone. Of course, such false statements are illegal.
If you do this, your house will be inspected. It helps to have some concrete way of showing you eat separately, like an individual spot in the kitchen for storing food, items in the refrigerator marked with your name or whatever you can think of. You are warned ahead of time when the house check will be made.
Even if you are considering applying as a household, if you all are eligible, you get more money as individuals. It is also generally easier to get the food stamps if you apply individually when you are not related.
THE STUDENT FRAUD
Food stamps recently surfaced in the news when a report revealed 2,100 University of Michigan students received food stamps. While the reports were inflammatory, nothing was ever questioned as to their eligibility.
Students are eligible, although the federal government has for years tried to prevent them from getting food stamps. When the first law was passed, students were specifically included, but this provision was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
Behind the latest anti-welfare, anti-student campaign is a federal proposal to block food stamps from people who are listed as dependants on someone else's income tax. Dependents who are still claimed by parents, whether getting support from home or not, will thus be ineligible to apply themselves. It's just another gimmick to convince Americans there are too many cheaters on welfare. Of course, it's rárely pointed out that about half the money allocated for food stamps goes unspent because most poor people just don't know they're eligible.