An Introduction to the
Food Stamp Program
Here are tips on how to help your clients who
are homeless access Food Stamp benefits.
> Most of Your Clients who are Homeless are Eligible
Clients Need to Show Proof of Homelessness
> Avoid Delays with a Correct Application
> Identification Requirements Vary
> Expedited Food Benefits are Available
Pantries Can Help Clients with an Immediate Need for
> Be an Authorized Representative
> Help Your Clients with the Application
> Develop a Relationship with the Local Food Stamp Office
> Your Clients Have Rights
For more detailed information
on the Food Stamp Program, scroll down.
Most of Your Clients who are Homeless are Eligible
In general, most of
your clients who are homeless are eligible for
food stamps. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the
Food Stamp Program. FNS has an online pre-screening
tool to help determine if a client is eligible
for food stamps. The online pre-screening tool
can be accessed at: http://126.96.36.199/fns/.
Clients Need to Show Proof of Homelessness
Under the Food Stamp Program rules, an individual is considered homeless
if he/she does not have a regular nighttime residence or his/her primary
nighttime residence is a temporary accommodation in:
- A supervised shelter
- A halfway house
- The residence of another person for up
to three months
- A place not designed for regular sleeping, such
as a hallway, bus station, or lobby
How a state agency verifies and
documents your client's living situation is up
to the state agency. The state must make allowances
for people who are homeless when verifying residency.
Your client who is homeless must be able to verify
his/her living situation if it is questioned.
Normally, a written or oral statement from a homeless
shelter or a statement from someone who can verify
where your client is staying would be sufficient.
Avoid Delays with a Correct Application
Errors, omissions, or inaccurate information
on the application are common reasons for benefits
being delayed. You should be familiar enough
food stamp guidelines to help your clients complete
application forms accurately and to help them
provide any necessary documents. Food stamps
not provided to fugitive felons and violators
of probation or parole. Most state agencies
not provide benefits to felons convicted of a
drug-related crime committed after August 22,
1996. For more information on state policies,
see the State
Options Report on the FNS Web site, www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/rules/memo/support/03/state_options.
Identification Requirements Vary
Most states accept a variety of IDs as valid. In general,
any document that reasonably establishes identity must
case managers in Chicago, Illinois utilize library cards.
No specific form,
such as a birth certificate, may be required.
Food Benefits are Available
People who have very low income
and resources may be able to get benefits sooner.
This fast process is called "expedited service."
Expedited services can get clients food stamps
within seven days if they have less than $150/month
in income and no more than $100 in resources,
or shelter costs in excess of their combined income
and resources. The one proof your clients need
to provide to get the first month's benefits is
proof of their identity. If they have no physical
identification, they can get benefits without
identification as long as you vouch for them.
Remember, expedited food stamps can take up to
seven days to receive, but this is much shorter
than the normal 30-day process.
Pantries Can Help Clients with
an Immediate Need for Food
Your local food pantries can provide food to your clients who need food
immediately and while your clients wait for expedited service for food
Be An Authorized Representative
Once your client is on the Food Stamp Program, lack of
contact with the food stamp office may be the biggest
To solve this problem, you can ask your client to be
his/her authorized representative. This means that
related to food
stamps will come to you. This is particularly important
when it is time for
recertification. It may be possible to have your agency
serve as the authorized representative (check with
your local program)
helpful if you relocate or if your caseload is reassigned
to another case manager.
Help your Clients with the
Even though people who are homeless are generally eligible
for food stamps, you should do what you can to ease
the process such
fill out the application. Some barriers that could
prevent your client from getting benefits include:
application forms. Even though many
states are streamlining their application
many state food stamp applications can be lengthy.
Application forms can be long because states
offer households an opportunity to apply for
all assistance programs (such as Medicaid
and Public Assistance Welfare) at the same
time they're applying for food stamps. Families
benefit from this process if they need cash
and medical assistance in addition to food
assistance. But if a homeless person only
wants to apply
for food stamps, he/she only needs to answer
the questions on food stamp eligibility.
- Difficulty understanding
or reading the application form. Parts of some
applications can be difficult to read and may be written at reading
levels your clients may not understand.
forms contain perjury (truth) statements that clients
may find intimidating. You can
help reassure your clients by making
sure they complete the form as accurately as possible. They cannot
be punished for making an honest
- Frustration over the
application process. Your clients may feel frustrated by application questions that
do not apply
to their situation. You can help your clients navigate the application
form by pointing out questions
that relate to benefits they do not want
or just do not apply in their case.
Develop a Relationship with the Local
Food Stamp Office
Food stamp offices across the country suggest
that getting to know a local contact can
make a difference.
are not familiar
local food stamp office, call them today
to set up a meeting.
Your Clients Have Rights
All clients who apply for food stamps have the
- Receive an application
when they ask for it
- Turn in their application the same day they
- Receive their food stamps (or be notified that they are
not eligible for the program) within 30 days after
submitting their application
- Receive food stamps within seven days if they
are eligible for expedited service
- Have a fair hearing (review of the decision)
if they disagree with any action taken on their case
information on Food Stamps:
Benefits Your Client May
What Makes Your Client Eligible
What Your Client Needs to Apply
If Your Client is an Immigrant
Food Stamp Program Q & A
Food Stamp Program