Retroactive food stamps are given when an application for food stamps is delayed and, upon approval, a caseworker finds that the household has been eligible for benefits throughout the application process. The accumulated value is simply added to the household's balance on their benefits card.
In 2010, the Food Stamps Program changed names and is now referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The federal government funds SNAP and sets national requirements and guidelines through the Food and Nutrition Service office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State governments distribute SNAP benefits to residents and are responsible for the application process.
Individuals and families apply for SNAP benefits through their state's human services department (the exact name of the department changes from state to state). Applications ask for the household's monthly income, expenses and resources. After submitting the application, the applicant must schedule and attend an interview with a state caseworker who will review the application and determine the exact SNAP allotment for the household.
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The application process usually takes two to four weeks, but it is not uncommon for the process to take much longer. There are many reasons for delays: some states have few caseworkers available to work with SNAP; states may experience a marked increase in applications during difficult economic times; or individual applications may be delayed while caseworkers verify information.
If an application is approved and the caseworker finds that the applicant was eligible for SNAP benefits during the application process, the caseworker will give the applicant retroactive benefits. For example, if a family of three applied in June and the application was approved in August for $250 in SNAP benefits per month, the caseworker responsible would most likely give the family a starting balance of $500 for the two months during which the family would have received food assistance if the application had not been delayed.
Actual stamps (a kind of voucher that was given to the cashier and then redeemed for money from the state) have not been used since 1998. States now give SNAP beneficiaries a debit (EBT) card that is automatically reloaded each month and can be swiped at a store's cash register like any other bank card.