SNAP, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is intended to help low-income families buy food and keep their loved ones fed. More than 20,000 military families are included in the numbers of those who need SNAP to make ends meet.
SNAP works on a need-based system where the applicant’s income is reviewed. SNAP is approved or denied on that basis. One of the flaws of this program, at least where military communities are concerned, is the way that income is calculated using both military base pay and certain non-taxable allowances.
The BAH payments military members receive for living off-base and in the local community are considered an entitlement for military service. SNAP adds the BAH as “income” rather than a military subsidized housing allowance. If your BAH and base pay are combined, it’s entirely possible to be denied SNAP assistance because the military family “earns too much money.”
Why do so many in uniform need this financial assistance?
Those who join the military in the 21st century are not necessarily the single, just out of high school recruits the Defense Department has relied upon in the past. New demographics for military service include far more families, but can the military compensation system keep up? There is an alternative offered by the Defense Department military families in need should explore as another option which we will examine below.
Until the military pay and allowance system is addressed for the needs of the 21st century military family, such issues are likely to continue being sources of debate.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) – Updates to SNAP
Originally, the Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (P-SNAP) Program was authorized in 2009 for the H1N1 pandemic but not used. The FFCRA revives and expands this program with the following:
- Allow households with children eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches extra assistance with food while schools are closed.
- Suspends the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), and
- Allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits
What It Takes to Qualify for SNAP
In general, according to the SNAP official page at USDA.gov, the following requirements apply to those who want to obtain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. The entire household may have up to $2,250 in “countable resources” including funds in cash or in a bank account. A $3,500 cap is permitted in cases where at least one member of the household is age 60 or older or is disabled.
SSI benefits are not included in this resource cap. The family’s home (where applicable) is not counted as a resource. Retirement and pension plans are also exempt.
SNAP has income limits for both gross income and net income, based on the number of people in the household. The applicant must generally meet both requirements to qualify. For example, a household of two would have a monthly gross income limit of $1,784 and a net income limit of $1,372 each month.
SNAP Employment Requirements
SNAP has work requirements in order to become or remain eligible for the program. They include, but may not be limited to the following:
- Registering for work
- Not voluntarily quitting a job
- Not voluntarily reducing the hours of employment
- Taking a job when offered one
- Participating in employment and training programs, if they are offered/assigned by the State
Other requirements include working or participating in a work program for at least 20 hours per week. This is a requirement for “able-bodied adults” according to the official site. This participation is required to receive benefits for more than three months in a 36-month period.
Children, senior citizens, those who are pregnant, and those who have physical or mental health issues are exempt from this.
SNAP Benefits Versus The Military’s Own Assistance Program
To counteract the need for SNAP or similar programs, the Defense Department offers something called the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA). The official site for this program states that under FSSA, the income of the military member is increased “to a level where you no longer qualify for SNAP benefits.”
Active duty military members, Active Reserve, and National Guard Component members who are entitled to basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) may receive FSSA. It is calculated based on income and household size. At the time of this writing, the maximum FSSA benefit permitted is $1,100 per month.
How FSSA Differs from SNAP
SNAP recipients receive a debit card and is used for food items only. The balance of the debit card is replenished by the government. Military members using FSSA get their cash paid directly to them. Comparatively the funds are not subject to SNAP restrictions on what may be purchased.
FSSA Is A Need-Based Program
FSSA applications require income and household size information. Eligibility is determined depending on a variety of factors including the nature of military service.
Those who are approved for the program must inform their command if monthly household income increases by $100 or more or when the income decreases by any amount. Re-certification for FSSA is required before the first day in February every year. It’s also a must when the recipient has an advancement, promotion, or PCS move.
Can SNAP And FSSA Be Used Concurrently?
No. Once you receive FSSA benefits, your eligibility for SNAP ends. You are required to report the FSSA income to the SNAP office as income. However, those who receive SNAP benefits are authorized and encouraged to apply for FSSA to replace SNAP.
Receiving FSSA benefits may also affect the ability to financially qualify for other government programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). It may also change eligibility for school lunch programs, earned income tax credits, and other benefits.
Tax code for both federal and state income taxes change frequently. Ask a tax professional how recipient of federal assistance such as SNAP or FSSA affects taxes.
FSSA for Reserve Members
Reservists who meet income eligibility requirements may be eligible to receive “prorated amounts of FSSA equaling 1/30th of one month for each eligible day served on active duty.” This is according to the FSSA official page which adds that annual training periods are considered eligible active duty periods. Drill periods are not included.
Applying for FSSA
Service members must log into their account or create an account at MilConnect. You can apply using that interface. Basic information is available without a login. Signing up for the program requires a MilConnect account or an in-person visit to a military personnel office.
DoD Guidelines for FSSA
The official Defense Department Guidelines for FSSA include the following:
- FSSA eligibility is based on USDA gross monthly income eligibility standards in effect at the time of certification or re-certification.
- The FSSA Program increases the BAS of a Service member by an amount that is intended to remove the household from SNAP eligibility.
- The FSSA shall be paid monthly in whole dollars, which are equal to the amount that is required to bring the household income of that Service member to 130 percent of the Federal poverty line.
- The military income of a Servicemember is part of household income. Not all military pay and allowances are counted as income for the purposes of the FSSA Program.
- At least one person in the household of a Service member must be a military dependent for that Service member to be eligible for the FSSA program.
- Reserve members must apply for the FSSA Program before the conclusion of any period of active duty.
- FSSA-eligible Reservists serving on active duty every day in a single calendar month will receive a one-month FSSA payment.
- Re-certifications must be completed within 30 days or less before or after any event that requires the service member to re-certify. According to the DoD, “The effective date of re-certification shall be the day following the last day of the previous certification period.”
- If the servicemember fails to reapply for FSSA in 30 days after the lapse of FSSA certification, a re-certification is treated as an initial application.
- Re-certifications may be required when any of the following applies: The monthly household income increases by $100 or more; there is a decrease in household size; there is a military promotion; the military member receives permanent change of station orders.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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