There are many low-income individuals and families in Pennsylvania who struggle with their daily costs of living. These households naturally have to focus on paying their rent and their bills. Often times, these households have to make sacrifices when it comes to grocery shopping. Instead of buying healthy, nutritional foods, low-income households have to buy whatever is affordable, which is often not the healthiest option available. It becomes even more of a challenge for households with children, since they also have to worry about the daily cost of school meals.
Fortunately, there are many food assistance programs available for low-income households in Pennsylvania. Some of the programs help by providing food directly, while others provide financial assistance for households to purchase food. In addition, there are several specialty food assistance programs which are aimed at specific groups of people, such as students. The following programs are the ones available all throughout the state of Pennsylvania, but households should keep an eye out for local food assistance programs, such as food shelters in their towns.
SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) is one of the largest food assistance programs in the United States. It is more commonly known by the former program name, food stamps. The program has undergone many changes since the earlier food stamps days. In the past, critics argued that food stamps did not have enough restrictions, with participants in the program using the food stamps to purchase items like alcohol and tobacco instead of healthy food. SNAP no longer has these loopholes, and the program only allows participants to purchase select food items from a grocery store.
Participants receive an EBT card, which is refilled with a certain amount every month. How much a participant receives is determined by the total size of his or her household, as well as the total income of everyone in the household. EBT cards are only active at select stores, which will openly advertise whether they accept the cards. Some stores may still refer to the program as food stamps.
Pennsylvania School Breakfast and Lunch Program
The school breakfast and lunch program is run by the Food and Nutrition branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program provides either lower cost meals for children, or it outright removes the cost for lunches and breakfast. The exact specifications depend on the school. Public schools, nonprofit private schools, and some nonprofit child care centers in the state offer the program. Participants sign up for the program by taking the initial paperwork home at the beginning of the school year. Students who believe they will qualify will return the paper to their school, who will verify the information, then enroll qualified students into the program. Like SNAP, the program places an emphasis on providing nutritional food to participants, so schools are required to adhere to certain nutritional guidelines.
Pennsylvania Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
SFSP is essentially an extension of the Pennsylvania school breakfast and lunch program. SFSP provides nutritional snacks and meals to any children under the age of 18 that meet the necessary eligibility requirements. The overall purpose of the program is to make sure that students who were unable to afford breakfast and lunch during the school year are still able to receive nutritional food, even when school is not in session.
Pennsylvania Woman Infants and Children (WIC)
WIC is a program that is aimed specifically at pregnant women, infants, and children. For children, the cutoff age is five years old. The overall goal of the program is to provide nutritional food for children and their mother during the earliest part of their lives, when they are most at nutritional risk. The program provides specific types of foods to participants at a monthly rate. The food packages are somewhat customizable, and the program works with participants who have specific dietary needs because of allergies or specific lifestyle choices, such as being a vegetarian. In addition to household size and income, all applicants must undergo a nutritional analysis from a doctor before receiving benefits. WIC will arrange an appointment if the participant is unable to afford one.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Pennsylvania
Although TANF is a program that provides general financial assistance to households in Pennsylvania, it is counted as a food assistance program as well. One of the reasons is that part of the requirements for TANF is being unable to afford basic living necessities, which includes food. Because it offers other services, TANF is one of the more involved programs. The overall goals of TANF focus on keeping a household together. As such, the program helps with financial assistance, but it assists parents with finding jobs, and provides family counseling services. Unlike other programs, TANF is only available for families.
Pennsylvania (CSFP) Commodity Supplemental Food Program
The overall purpose of CSFP is to provide healthy foods for the elderly, specifically anyone that is at least 60 years old. The program not only provides nutritional food for the participants, but it also offers different recipes and fact sheets, so the participants understand how to prepare the food and why it is healthy.