Many seniors struggle to pay bills while on a fixed income. They might have to choose between buying food or medication. Under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), seniors may qualify for food stamps (now called "food assistance") to help buy food.
In Ohio, a person can apply for food assistance at the local County Department of Job and Family Services. They can apply in-person, by phone, or on line. If you apply by phone, you will be mailed an application that same day. Later, you will need to have a face-to-face interview with your caseworker. You will also have to give proof of your income and bills (e.g. rent and utilities receipts, bank statements). It is important that you mail, fax, or deliver these papers as soon as possible.
Whether you can receive food assistance depends upon:
- the number of people in your household,
- your income, and
- your resources (such as cash, savings and checking accounts).
Your income must be below a certain limit. A special income rule applies to elderly or disabled persons. The county will not look at your "gross" income, but will subtract certain expenses (such as heating and cooling expenses, mortgage or rent, and medical expenses), and use this "net" income to decide if you qualify.
A household with an elderly member (over 60 years old) can have up to $3,000 in resources. Household goods, most retirement plans, and the home you live in are not counted as a resource.
If you are approved, you will receive an "electronic benefits transfer" (EBT) card. Shopping with the card is like shopping with a bank debit or ATM card. You can buy food or food-related products, including seeds and plants to grow food. You cannot buy alcohol, tobacco, or vitamins. In 2012, a single senior can receive as much as $200 per month for food assistance. A household of two can receive up to $367 every month.
If you think you might qualify, you can do a quick check and apply at Ohio's Benefit Bank online at www.thebenefitbank.com. You can also call your County Department of Job and Family Services or apply online at https://odjfsbenefits.ohio.gov.
This FAQ was written by Legal Aid attorney Deborah Dallman, and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of "The Alert" - a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.