Food Assistance (SNAP) - Community Legal Services (2022)

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Last Modified: 09/08/2022

In Florida, there are two types of food assistance programs administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as “food stamps”) and SUNCAP. These programs are designed to provide low-income Floridians the opportunity to purchase healthy food.

If you are a Floridian struggling to provide food for yourself or your household, read below to find out more about these programs. If you have been denied these benefits, or recently had them reduced or completely cut off, contact us for advice.

If you are seeking information about temporary food assistance during disaster situations, visit our Disaster SNAP informational webpage.

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WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?

If you want to apply for SNAP program benefits, you will need to meet these requirements.

You must:

  1. Live in the state of Florida;
  2. Provide proof of citizenship or have a qualified non-citizen status;
  3. Provide proof of your Social Security number or proof that you have applied for a Social Security number;
  4. Meet income and financial resource limits;
  5. Meet work requirements; and
    Cooperate with child support enforcement (if applicable).

A SNAP household is made up of all the people who live together and purchase and prepare food together. Some people are required to be considered as the same household even if they do not purchase and prepare food together. These people are:

  • Spouses living at the same address,
  • Children under age 22 living with their parents, and
  • Children under age 18 who are under the parental control of the head of household.

Elderly or disabled adults (and their spouse and children) who are unable to purchase and prepare food on their own may be considered their own household if the income of the other people they live with is less than 165% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

People such as boarders, roomers, and live-in attendants/caretakers are not required to be counted as part of the SNAP household unless they fit in one of the mandatory categories listed above. But you can count them as members of your household if they purchase and prepare food with the rest of the household.

To figure out if you are eligible for SNAP, the government will look at either your “gross income” or your “net income.” Gross income is the money your household takes in before taxes and deductions are taken out. Net Income is the money your household receives after taxes and deductions are taken out.

To be eligible for SNAP, your household must meet certain income limits. Most households must have a gross income less than or equal to twice the Federal Poverty Level. Households with at least one person who is elderly (age 60 or older) or disabled must have a net income less than the Federal Poverty Level.

The following is counted as income:

  • Employment income for all household members over 18 years old;
  • Tips;
  • Child support and alimony;
  • Social Security payments (SSI, SSDI, Retirement);
  • VA payments;
  • Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation;
  • Cash assistance such as TANF;
  • Rental income; and
  • Pension and retirement income.

The following is not counted as income:

  • Food assistance to children (free or reduced school lunch, WIC);
  • Educational assistance such as scholarships, grants, and loans;
  • Employment income of a minor child;
  • Direct payment energy assistance (LIHEAP);
  • Adoption subsidies; and
  • Non-cash or other in-kind benefits.

DCF also takes into consideration certain expenses you may have and reduces your income by those amounts. These are called deductions or disregards. Examples of deductions are:

  • Dependent care expenses when needed so that you can work or obtain education or training;
  • Some housing and utility expenses;
  • Non-reimbursable medical expenses over $35 per month for households with at least one elderly or disabled individual;
  • Court-ordered child support payments paid to non-household members.

The Florida Department of Children and Families offers a SNAP eligibility fact sheet that includes the most recent income limits. For the current version, head to the bottom of their Food Assistance Program page, which you can find here: https://myflfamilies.com/service-programs/access/food-assistance-and-suncap.shtml

The Excess Medical Expense Income Deduction is often forgotten but can make a big difference in the amount of SNAP benefits your household receives.

Who qualifies for this deduction?

Households with at least one person who

  • Is age 60 or over; or
  • Receives disability benefits like SSI or VA benefits.

If your household qualifies, all unreimbursed medical expenses over $35 will be deducted from the amount of income DCF uses to calculate your SNAP benefit amount. Taking advantage of this deduction lowers your counted income and therefore increases the amount of benefits the household is eligible for.

Examples of expenses that count:

  • Health insurance expenses: co-pays, deductibles, premiums
  • Prescription medication, including prescribe over-the-counter medicines
  • Transportation or lodging to receive treatment or services
  • Attendant aide, childcare, or housekeeping services needed because of age or disability
  • Medical supplies like eyeglasses, walkers, canes, dentures, incontinence supplies, hearing aids (including batteries), TTY
  • Service animal expenses including veterinary care and food

Keep documentation to verify your expenses such as receipts, copies of prescriptions, and statements from your provider or a third-party familiar with the expense.

For more information, visit Florida Policy Institute’s SNAP Excess Medical Expense Deductions Toolkit

Asset (resource) limits do not apply to everyone, but if your household is subject to an asset limit, it means that you must have below a certain amount of “countable assets” to receive SNAP benefits.

Examples of countable assets include:

  • Cash;
  • Money in bank accounts;
  • Property that is not your primary home; and
  • Stocks and bonds.

Your countable assets don’t include things like:

  • Your home and surrounding property;
  • Household goods and personal effects;
  • Burial plots (Only 1 for each household member);
  • Life insurance policies; and
  • Vehicles.

There is an asset limit of $2,250 if a member of your household has been disqualified for benefits because they broke Food Assistance Program rules, were involved in felony drug trafficking, ran away from a felony warrant, or didn’t participate in a required work program.

If your household contains at least one elderly (age 60 or older) or disabled person, your asset limit is $3,500.

Some people must also meet work requirements to be eligible for SNAP. This will only apply to you if you are an “Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents” (ABAWD). If you are part of this group and are not working or participating in a work program, the SNAP Benefits are limited to no more than 3 months of food assistance in a 3-year period. You are an ABAWD if you:

  • Are a healthy adult between 18 and 50 years old;
  • Do not have any dependent children; and
  • Are not currently pregnant.

For more information on ABAWD and possible exceptions to these requirements, please visit the Florida Department of Children and Families website.

SUNCAP is a food assistance program for people who also receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). (For more information on SSI, visit our informational page about Social Security benefits.) Individuals may be eligible for the SUNCAP food assistance program if they:

  • Receive SSI benefits,
  • Are at least 18 years old,
  • Are not working, and
  • Purchase and prepare food alone.

If you are already receiving SNAP benefits and are trying to get SSI assistance, you could automatically be switched over to SUNCAP when you become eligible for SSI. If changing from SNAP to SUNCAP would lower the amount of benefits your household would receive, you have the choice to continue receiving SNAP benefits instead of changing programs.

For more information on the SUNCAP program, visit https://myflfamilies.com/service-programs/access/docs/suncapenglish.pdf

You have the right to be given written notice from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) of any decision about food assistance benefits you receive or have applied for. The notice should explain any decision DCF is making, whether it is an approval, a denial, a reduction, or a termination of benefits. DCF also has to provide you with written notice of any overpayment, which is when they have paid you more benefits than you were actually qualified to receive. The notice should also include an explanation of how to appeal a decision you disagree with and how you may be able to continue benefits at your current amount during an appeal.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO?

Use the Florida Policy Institute SNAP Calculator to check your household eligibility for SNAP, Medical assistance, or cash assistance.

If your application for SNAP is denied, you should receive a written notice stating the reason for denial. If you disagree with the decision, you have ninety (90) days from the date of the notice to ask for a Fair Hearing. A Fair Hearing is the process that allows you to dispute the denial decision if you believe it was decided unfairly. Instructions on how to ask for a Fair Hearing should be included with the notice of denial that DCF sends to you.

Or, you may complete a public assistance fair hearing form on this Florida Department of Children and Families webpage.

It can take several weeks for your Fair Hearing request to be processed. Once it is processed, you will receive a letter telling you the date, time, and location of your Fair Hearing.

Before your SNAP benefits can be reduced or terminated, you should receive written notice from DCF, stating the reasons why this is happening. If you disagree with the decision, you must ask for a Fair Hearing within ninety (90) days of the date of the notice.

If you ask for a Fair Hearing before your benefits are reduced or stopped, you may ask that your benefits continue pending your appeal. This means that you will still get your full benefits until a final decision is made.

  • You must request an appeal WITHIN TEN (10) DAYS OF THE NOTICE in order to keep getting benefits throughout your appeal process.
  • If you lose at the Fair Hearing, you may be asked torepaythe amount of benefits you received during your appeal process. If you do not ask for aid pending your appeal and you win at your Fair Hearing, you will receive benefits to compensate you for the amount you should have been receiving, up to a year.

If you did not receive written notice but your benefits have stopped or decreased, you have a right to request a Fair Hearing. You should appeal immediately upon learning your benefits have been reduced or cut off.

There are three different kinds of SNAP overpayments:

  1. Agency Error: DCF made an error and paid you too much money.
  2. Inadvertent Household Error: The household made an error that led DCF to pay you too much.
  3. Intentional Program Violation: DCF believes your or a member of your household lied, committed fraud, or intentionally misled them to gain extra SNAP benefits.

If DCF claims that your household received more food stamps than you should have been given but you believe that you were not overpaid, you have the right to appeal the decision within ninety (90) days.

If you were overpaid benefits, you are still obligated to pay back DCF for the amount of overpayment — even if the overpayment was DCF’s error. An accidental overpayment does not benefit your household, because it must always be paid back. If you have noticed an overpayment in your SNAP benefits that you believe to be DCF’s error, notify them immediately. It cannot benefit you in the long run.

If you do not appeal or if you agree with the overpayment, DCF can do several things to collect the amount that you owe:

  • If you are getting SNAP benefits now, DCF will lower your monthly benefits. The amount they will take depends on the type of overpayment you have.
  • If you arenotgetting SNAP benefits, DCF will try to get you to agree to a repayment plan. If you do not agree, they can take your federal tax refund. In some situations, they can also take part of other benefits you get, like Social Security.

IF DCF ALLEGES THAT YOU COMMITTED AN INTENTIONAL PROGRAM VIOLATION, YOU SHOULD SPEAK TO AN ADVOCATE ABOUT POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES AND REMEDIES. Contact CLSMF for help.

If you cannot afford to repay the overpayment, you may file for a “compromise.” A compromise is when DCF agrees to eliminate the overpayment altogether, and you can request one at any time. You may get approved for a compromise in certain situations, such as when:

  • Your household income is fixed and based on age and/or disability,
  • You are inbankruptcyproceedings, or
  • You can prove that, due to your ongoing expenses, you will not be able to repay the debt within 36 months.

If you believe you qualify for a compromise, please contact us.

WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE TAKING ACTION?

If you are a parent or relative caregiver of a child with absent parents and you are trying to get food assistance benefits for them, you must cooperate with the state’s Child Support Enforcement office to establish paternity and obtain child support for the children. If you do not cooperate and do not have a good reason, you will not be able to receive food assistance for your household.

Cooperating with the Child Support Enforcement office means giving as much help as you can. This may include giving information about the absent parent, helping determine who is the father of a child born outside of wedlock, signing legal papers, and testifying in court.

You may have a good reason, known as “good cause,” for not cooperating with child support enforcement if doing so would be against the best interest of you or the child. If you claim good cause for noncooperation, you will have to provide evidence showing why cooperating would be against the best interest of you or the child.

If you are currently paying child support for a child under 18 years old who doesn’t live with you, you may qualify to receive a deduction when determining your own household income when you apply for SNAP benefits. (See SNAP income limits above.)

You are not able to give away your assets just to qualify for food assistance, nor can you sell things for much less than they are worth to try to qualify.

Giving away assets or selling them for less than fair market value is considered a “transfer” of assets. If you or any household member transfers assets within 90 days before applying for food assistance for the purpose of qualifying for benefits, you will not be able to receive food assistance benefits for up to one year.

The following transfers do not affect eligibility:

  • Assets that would not otherwise affect eligibility (assets that are not counted during the food assistance qualifying process);
  • Assets that are sold or traded at, or near, fair market value;
  • Assets transferred between members of the same household;
  • Assets transferred for reasons other than attempting to qualify for food assistance benefits.

Most students — ages 18 through 49, enrolled in college or other institutions of higher education at least half time — are not eligible for food assistance benefits, but there are some exceptions. Students may be able to get food assistance benefits if they are:

  • Physically or mentally unfit;
  • Receiving Temporary Cash Assistance benefits (TANF);
  • Participating in a state or federally financed work study program;
  • Enrolled in college as a result of participation in a Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program under Title IV of the Social Security Act;
  • Working a minimum of 80 hours per month;
  • Participating in an on-the-job training program;
  • Taking care of a dependent household member under the age of six;
  • Taking care of a dependent household member over the age of five but under 12 and do not have adequate child care to enable them to attend school or work a minimum of 80 hours per month, or to take part in a state or federally financed work study program;
  • A single parent enrolled full time in college and taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 12; or
  • Participating or enrolled in specific programs that will assist in obtaining the skills needed for the current job market.

Households can use food assistance benefits to buy:

  • Breads and cereals;
  • Fruits and vegetables;
  • Meats, fish, and poultry;
  • Dairy products; and
  • Seeds and plants to grow and produce food for the household to eat.

Households cannot use food assistance benefits to buy:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco;
  • Pet food, soaps, paper products, or household supplies;
  • Vitamins and other medicines;
  • Food that will be eaten in the store; and
  • Hot foods.

Stores are not allowed to give cash to individuals who receive food assistance benefits, or in exchange for the return of empty bottles and cans that contained food purchased with food assistance benefits.

For more information visit the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Food Assistance area. (You can find the most recent version of their Food Assistance Fact Sheet at the bottom of the page.) Just head here: https://myflfamilies.com/service-programs/access/food-assistance-and-suncap.shtml

The Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) Program allows SNAP recipients to double the benefits they can use on fresh fruits and vegetables, vegetable starter plants, and seeds at farmer’s markets, produce stands, CSAs, community grocery outlets, and co-ops.

More information about FAB visit https://www.feedingflorida.org/food-access/fresh-access-bucks/how-fab-works

To find a participating location near you visit https://www.feedingflorida.org/promotional-materials/fresh-access-bucks-market-locations

The FreshEBT app is for smart phones and can help people on SNAP discretely access real-time balances on their accounts, access coupons and special savings promotions, and assist you with budgeting your food purchases.

Visit https://www.freshebt.com/state/florida/ to learn more.

The app can be added to your smart phone by visiting the App Store on iPhone or the Play Store on Android devices.

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