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Growing Food With Food Stamps

July 5, 2009

SNAP is the new name for the federal Food Stamp Program.  It stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SNAP is the new name for the federal Food Stamp Program. It stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

According to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services web site, the USDA’s largest program, SNAP, serves more then 28 million low-income individuals every month. This massive program has the potential to be a tremendous tool in the quest to provide everyday food security and nutritious food to low-income families across America. In fact, the new name change from the federal Food Stamp Program to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was intended to “reflect the mission to provide food assistance and increased nutrition for the health and well being of low-income people.”  The SNAP program is a huge part of the USDA’s Food and Nutritional Service Programs budget. Needless to say, a massive amount of energy in various forms goes into this program.

After looking around on the USDA’s official web site for awhile, I finally was directed to Kentucky’s Cabinet For Health and Family Services web site. there I learned that the Dept. for Community Based Services in Kentucky is responsible for the Food Benefits Program; our version of the federal SNAP program. While searching for eligibility requirements, I came across the most amazing fact under the heading: How are food benefits used?

“Food benefits can be used just like money to purchase almost any food item, except ready-to-eat hot foods. You may also use food benefits to buy seeds and plants to grow fruits and vegetables.”

I couldn’t believe me eyes. If eligible for the program I could actually buy seeds and plants with a portion of my benefits! Of course I already work on a farm, have a community garden plot, and access to my parents vegetable garden. That is, I have access to fresh food and vegetables despite that fact that my income is low. I was actually more excited about the impact this could have on the food security within my community. I plan on using a portion of my benefits to purchase plants at the Franklin County Farmers Market and planting them at two of the three community gardens in town for education and demonstration purposes. I will share the resulting produce with my community in an effort to raise awareness of this little known benefit, and be documenting this experience through the energy farms blog. I have also begun to review some recent literature in relation to the Food Stamp and SNAP programs in an effort to better understand the time, energy, and resources these programs utilize.

The following information was taken from Kentucky’s Food benefits Program eligibility requirements. I have included it for anyone interested in the eligibility requirements of Kentucky.

Households have to meet income tests unless all members are receiving TANF, SSI, or in some places general assistance. Most households must meet both the gross and net income tests, but a household with an elderly person or a person who is receiving certain types of disability payments only has to meet the net income test. Households, except those noted, that have income over the amounts listed below cannot get SNAP benefits.

(Oct. 1, 2008 through Sept. 30, 2009)

Household size

Gross monthly income

(130 percent of poverty)

Net monthly income

(100 percent of poverty)


1,127 $ 867


1,517 1,167


1,907 1,467


2,297 1,767


2,687 2,067


3,077 2,367


3,467 2,667


3,857 2,967

Each additional member

+ 390

+ 300

Gross income means a household’s total, nonexcluded income, before any deductions have been made. Net income means gross income minus allowable deductions.

* SNAP gross and net income limits are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.

Deductions are allowed as follows:

A 20 percent deduction from earned income;
A standard deduction of $144 for households sizes of 1 to 3 people and $147 for a household size of 4 (higher for some larger households);
A dependent care deduction when needed for work, training, or education;
Medical expenses for elderly or disabled members that are more than $35 for the month if they are not paid by insurance or someone else;
Legally owed child support payments;
Some States allow homeless households a set amount ($143) for shelter costs; and
Excess shelter costs that are more than half of the household’s income after the other deductions. Allowable costs include the cost of fuel to heat and cook with, electricity, water, the basic fee for one telephone, rent or mortgage payments and taxes on the home. (Some States allow a set amount for utility costs instead of actual costs.) The amount of the shelter deduction cannot be more than $446 unless one person in the household is elderly or disabled. (The limit is higher in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.)

Gross Income Computation


Determine household size….. 4 people with no elderly or disabled members.
Add gross monthly income… $1,500 earned income + $550 social security =$2,050 gross income.
If gross monthly income is less than the limitfor household size, determine net income. $2,050 is less than the $2,297 allowed for a 4-person household, so determine net income.

Subtract Deductions to Determine Net Income and Apply the Net Income Test


Subtract 20% earned income


$2,050 gross income

$1,500 earned income x 20% = $300.

$2,050 – $300 = $1,750

$1,750 – $147 standard deduction for a household size of 4 = $1,603

$1,603 – $361 dependent care = $1,242



$1,242 adjusted income/2 = $621

$700 total shelter – $621 (half of

income) = $79 excess shelter cost

$1,242 – $79 = $1,163 Net monthly


Since the net monthly income is

less than $1,767 allowed for a

household of 4, the household has

met the income test.

Subtract standard deduction………

Subtract dependent care deduction…..

Subtract child support deduction……

Subtract medical costs over $35 for

elderly and disabled………

Excess shelter deduction……..

Determine half of adjusted income…….

Determine if shelter costs are more

than half of adjusted income……..

Subtract excess amount, but not more

than the limit, from adjusted


Apply the net income test….


The amount of benefits the household gets is called an allotment. The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household’s allotment. This is because SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.

(Apr. 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2009)

People in Household Maximum Monthly Allotment

$ 200


$ 367


$ 526


$ 668


$ 793


$ 952


$ 1,052


$ 1,202

Each additional person…

$ 150

Benefit Computation


Multiply net income by 30%…

(Round up)

Subtract 30% of net income from the maximum

allotment for the household size…

$1,163 net monthly income

x .3 = $348.90 (round up to $349)

$668 maximum allotment for 4 – $349 (30% of

net income) = $319, SNAP Allotment

for a full month

If a household applies after the first day of the month, benefits will be provided from the day the household applies.

SNAP benefits are available to all eligible households regardless of race, sex, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cynthia Browning permalink
    March 7, 2012 5:17 pm

    I am not an interesting experiment but very real. Maximum food stamps are $ 200.00 a month for one person in Texas. That is $50 a week sounds like a lot but isn’t. I buy protein first and then fill in with my home grown vegetables. i grow what is indigenous, I like, doesn’t take up space, uses little water. Onions and potatoes are cheap-don’t bother. Greens, lettuce, tomato, green beans, okra and herbs are the order of the day. My raised beds are handicap height and have 4 foot wide paths between them. There is no bending or stooping. It takes very little time to water them and my water bill has not exceeded the minnimum. The heirloom seeds did not grow well for me. So much for seed saving. My family and friends are always excited about my gardens. I have 4, 4′ x 10′ x 2′ beds. It is so easy and never ceases to amaze me. Put seeds in dirt, add water and you have food!

  2. Sharon permalink
    September 28, 2009 8:35 pm

    To me this is a really good resource. One complicating factor is the other items needed to use the seeds. Sometimes there is not the knowledge, tools, or land to make use of the seeds. Fortunately there are some programs such as community or school gardens that can help with this.

    I think it would be really interesting experiment for someone who does have good gardening skills like you to

    1) Calculate the amount of food stamps they would get if they had a low income job.

    2) Eat as healthily as possible for one month at food stamp levels and document it with grocery lists and photos. Plus they could eat any free food that the low income worker would have access to as part of their job, participate in potlucks, or usual free activities.

    3) Design a high nutrition garden that wouldn’t require too many seed packets. Try to use open polinated seeds to save needing to buy seeds the next year with the food stamps. Plant it in a local community garden plot or a space the same size at home or on a research site using basic hand tools. I have conflicting thoughts about whether it’s good to try to design this garden so that it would be easy to do for a new gardener or whether it would be more effective as an example to maximize garden productivity and nutritional diversity.

    4) Keep track of amount of time spent on garden and types of activities. Record amounts of food produced. Blog with pictures if any minutes left in the day. Or have someone else interview you while you work, take pictures, and blog as their contribution to the experiment.

    5) Give some thought to how the gardening would work for low income people in your area in terms of fitting it into the rest of their life. For example in our area, one gardener is elderly and has an hour walk each way to the garden. Another works one full time job, one half time job, goes to school online, and gardens. I am not suggesting anyone add these complications to their experiment as documenting the various aspects adds a similar set of extra work.

    6) Eat for a second month using the food stamp equivalent money plus the produce during one of the months with a lot of diverse produce. Document as above.

    7) Dry, freeze, do natural fermintation of foods (pickles), or store them in low tech ways (winter squash, onions, potatoes, etc), still growing for hardy greens. Do a week or month in midwinter with food stamp money plus stored or still growing foods.

    8) Save seed as much as possible. Use seed the next year to continue gardening. Trade some excess seed for a greater variety of seeds or plant divisions from other gardeners. And this is where community gardens are a big bonus as people are generally very kind about sharing extra seeds, plants, or cuttings.

  3. Ken S permalink
    September 4, 2009 11:02 pm

    I just looked at the Louisiana DSS site and found the same statement that seeds and plants purchased to grow food are allowable food stamp expenditures. Another interesting fact: If you live in rural Alaska, you can buy a bow and arrows with food stamps.

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