For many in the Chicago area, the coronavirus pandemic is causing major financial strains, making it difficult to pay rent or put food on the table. One of the social safety net programs which can help those struggling to feed their families in this difficult time is SNAP— the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program—commonly referred to as the Food Stamp Program. Designed to help end hunger and improve nutrition and health, this financial assistance program helps low-income households buy the food they need for a nutritionally adequate diet. The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) administers the program in Illinois. Benefits are provided through the Illinois Link System, an electronic system that allows someone to use a plastic card, similar to a bank card, at grocery store terminals.
Nationally, there are now 43 million people getting food assistance through SNAP. “We’ve never seen participation in SNAP or demand for help with food assistance spike like this before,” says Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive American think tank that analyzes the impact of federal and state government budget policies. In March, Congress made it easier for states to approve people for SNAP benefits, and also allowed states to give everyone the maximum benefit — which is $194 a month for a single person, and $509 for a family of three. Hunger relief organizations are now pushing Congress to increase SNAP benefits.
Most households with low income can get food stamp benefits. And good news: while every situation is different, in general, receipt of SNAP benefits will not affect a person’s eligibility for SSDI or SSI.
The eligibility requirements for SNAP benefits are complex, so we cannot list all the details here. But in general, you must be a resident of the state of Illinois and fall into one of two groups: (1) those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $2,001, or (2) those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $3,001 who share their household with a person or persons age 60 and over, or with a person with a disability (a child, your spouse, a parent, or yourself). In order to qualify, you must have an annual household income (before taxes) that is below a specific amount depending on the size of your household. For example, a household with four persons cannot have an income of more than $34,060 before taxes to qualify. To determine the income limit for your specific household size, visit benefits.gov.
Here’s how to apply for expedited SNAP benefits:
Fill out an Application for SNAP benefits, Cash, or Medical Assistance online, or you can print out a copy of the application or fill one out at your local DHS office. These offices are also known as Family Community Resource Centers. Follow the directions on the form. You must include your name and address, and be sure to sign your application.
File your application by bringing, mailing or faxing it to your local Family Community Resource Center. You can find your nearest FCRC using the online office locator. If you do not know where your FCRC is or if you are unable to go there, you can call the helpline 24 hours a day at: (800) 843-6154 or (866) 324-5553 (TTY). Because many offices are closed or open only for limited hours due to the pandemic, we recommend that you phone ahead before going to any Family Community Resource Center.
Normally, the Illinois Department of Human Services conducts an in-person interview of SNAP applicants, but during this pandemic, interviews are not required for those who qualify for expedited service when identity can be verified, and all verifications needed to establish eligibility have been provided.
If you are approved for expedited SNAP benefits, DHS should give you the SNAP benefits within 5 days from when you apply. Usually, you will be given a LINK card which will have the SNAP benefits on it. If your application is denied and you believe your application should not have been denied, then you can file an appeal.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, hunger was a problem across the U.S., with 39.7 million people in 2018 suffering from food insecurity. That means roughly 1 in 10 Americans were going hungry. And nearly one-third, or 11 million of them, were children. Although some politicians and political commentators vilify SNAP recipients and attempt to paint them as lazy and unmotivated, most SNAP recipients who can work do, in fact, work. A 2012 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities over a 25-month period found that more than half of individuals in a typical month who were participating in SNAP were working in that month. Furthermore, 74 percent worked in the year before or after that month. Rates were even higher when work among other household members is counted: 87 percent of households with children and a non-disabled adult included at least one member who worked in this 25-month period. These are hardworking people, with jobs, who are hungry every day. And unfortunately, for many recipients, SNAP doesn’t even come close to getting them to the end of the month.