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With the coronavirus vaccine rollout now in full swing, US states are beginning to ease restrictions, clearing the way for more people to return to work. It's a promising sign after a difficult year of dealing with all of the physical, psychological and economic implications of COVID-19.
Despite this good news -- and the short-term financial boost of another round of stimulus checks -- millions of Americans are still struggling to pay rent and feed their families.
In fact, an estimated 42 million people in the US will deal with food insecurity as a result of the crisis, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.
If you've lost your job or aren't making ends meet, you may be eligible for assistance through government programs like SNAP. Here's how it works -- and how to sign up.
What is SNAP?
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as "food stamps." If you don't earn enough money to cover food costs for you and your family, you might qualify for monthly SNAP benefits to cover the costs of staple foods, including produce, meat, dairy, bread and cereal.
How much you receive is based on your income and how many people are in your household.
The maximum monthly allotment for a family of four is $782.
To get SNAP, you'll need to meet the specific criteria first, including:
Income: SNAP measures both your gross and net income; both limits vary based on your household. For a family of four, your gross monthly income must be $2,839 or less. Your net monthly income must be no more than $2,184.
Citizenship: SNAP is available for US citizens and some residents who meet specific criteria (see the specific qualifications for the latter at the US Department of Agriculture, which administers the program).
To qualify, you'll need to have lived in the US for at least five years, be receiving disability assistance or be under the age of 18.
Work: If you're not working, you'll need to provide details that you're applying for work, not voluntarily reducing your hours or have quit your job, taking a job if offered one and participating in employment programs, if your state requires it. Children, seniors, pregnant women and those who have physical or mental health reasons are exempt.
Even if some household members aren't eligible for SNAP, states will determine the eligibility of the remaining household members that are eligible.
Read more: How to recover from a year of virtual school
How to apply for SNAP
SNAP is available at the state, not federal, level. Each state agency has its own specific instructions for applying.
After you apply, you'll be notified within about 30 days if you're eligible to receive benefits.
You might need to complete an interview and verify the information on your application, like pay stubs, for example. If you are eligible, you'll start receiving benefits based on your application date.
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