How do I know whether I qualify for food stamps?

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Every so often, our Dear Penny column investigates the answers to reader questions about saving money in Brooklyn. This week’s entry is written by Brokelyn associate editor Jonathan Berk.

The official line: Eligibility is based mainly on income, household size, and in some cases, assets. There’s a six-page application and an interview (see below for all of that). Unofficially, go ahead and fill out the application, and bring in what they ask for, but don’t sweat your chances assuming you’re in the right ballpark of financial need. Assets, or resources, don’t matter as much toward eligibility as they used to. Even if your financial woes are pretty recent (you made a decent living last year or you just went off unemployment), you might still qualify for the benefit.

The web site of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is the place to go to find out the exact numbers and all the detailed information you’ll need. There are some handy income-based charts to help you figure out if you qualify. Here are some sample numbers, but note that based on these, you only “may” qualify for the benefits. To actually apply, there’s the application and an interview.

For a single person, not elderly or disabled, monthly gross income must be no greater than $1,127 and annual income must be under $13,524. Then the limits increase with each additional person, so a family of four would have to be taking in less than $2,297 monthly or $27,564 annually. Allowable income is higher for families with elderly or disabled members, and even higher still for families with dependent care expenses (kids must out-rank cripples or old people). The monthly limit for a family of four with dependents is $3,533, and the annual limit is $42,396.

On the other hand… here’s that unofficial part we mentioned. Here’s what happened when a good friend of Brokelyn went to sign up:

“They asked for my checking account number but I said I didn’t know it. I just didn’t really want anyone poking around in my checking account. They said ‘fine.’ They said, ‘How are you going to pay next month’s rent?’ I said, ‘Exactly.’ That was about it.”

She did tell them amounts for her checking account, retirement fund, rent and income, but the 1099s she was supposed to bring? They weren’t even looked at. She got $200 for monthly food stamps, up for review in six months.

If you want to apply, you’ll have to make the trip to one of these Brooklyn Food Stamp Centers. Applying by mail also is possible, as are telephone interviews under certain circumstances. And here’s a little fact of note: Food stamps are now accepted at a number of farmers’ markets.

While we’re on the subject of social welfare here, there are a couple of other useful benefits we thought we’d help direct you to: Medicaid and extended unemployment assistance.

Medicaid, put simply, is a program for those who can’t afford other medical care. Learn all you need at this site, of the New York State Department of Health. Take note: Medicaid’s eligibility requirements include income, resources, age, disability level and more. It’s not for everyone, even if you’re on the low end of the income spectrum.

Gaining extended unemployment assistance is a simpler process. Currently, there are 53 weeks of extended unemployment available after the initial 26 weeks of benefits. Eligibility, filing details and other important info is here, through the New York State Department of Labor.

Send your stumpers to [email protected].

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  1. Great. More lampreys sucking off of the working man. I believe in a man’s right to freedom and do or not do what they want. But sustain yourself. Be self-reliant. Have some self-respect and take care of yourself.

  2. @jr: I think thats an incredibly oversimplified way of looking at welfare/food stamps, but at the same time, if your point was that this article seems like an endorsement for abuse of the welfare system, I see what you mean.

  3. Hey geniuses at Brokelyn,
    Thanks so much for writing this helpul and unfortunately OH SO relevant post. Motivated by this post and my roommate who’s on food stamps, I braved the Ft. Greene government office, a two hour wait with screaming kids and angst-ridden fellow Brokelynites with much success. Thanks to your advice and a very generous NY State government, my food stamps and I have made several trips to the Park Slope Food Co-op! Here’s to the government forking over the dough so I can eat well! Thanks again.

  4. food stamp abuse is rampant in Kensington. Shameful. We all pay for it, and it’s fuel for the right to bash entitlement programs.

  5. The biggest entitlements are going to to banks and corporations – food stamps are a drop in the bucket compared to what is being forked over to them. And people need them now more than ever. Thank you for this article. It is making me brave enough to go and apply. And I am not ashamed.

  6. I agree with Agnes..but i have to let you know that the addresses in downtown Brooklyn are no longer have to go to 275 Bergen Street between 3rd and Nevins (closer to Nevins)

    I have worked for over 20 years and paid into the system, i am having a hard time, why should i not accept help?

  7. Funny how people bash those who go on welfare/food stamps, yet if they were in the same predicament they would surely obtain it themselves. I’d much rather tax money go towards helping people put food on there table then supporting privatized corrupt governmental organizations and wars that only seek to line the pockets of the rich. Want to complain about where your tax money is going? There is much more important matters at hand. That being said if the damn cost of living wasn’t so high and completely out reaching the income rate, perhaps people wouldn’t need welfare. You can’t even own a house/property without paying taxing on it, your literally forced into the system. There was a time that people had the patent to land, now days you only are given the deed to land, which basically says that you are renting it from the government. The whole damn system is corrupted.

  8. My dad is 73 and has medical issues but no one sees he needs food stamps if I apply for Him. Some people really don’t need food stamps.

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