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Assistance is Available Thanks to These Programs

Low-income American households can deal with many day to day obstacles. Financial struggles can be difficult to navigate. This has been especially true over the last few years as the costs of basic needs got increasingly expensive! One of the biggest costs a family can deal with is groceries. Luckily, the federal government recognizes that millions of households experience food insecurity.

What Kind of Food Assistance Can You Get From the Federal Government?

Food assistance is a necessary resource that the federal government supplies to low-income American households. There are various programs out there that can help varying households in different ways. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supplies the following programs.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

Child and adult day care centers can participate in this federal program by offering nutritious food to those in their care. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) benefits more than 3 million children and 100,000 adults everyday by reimbursing participating facilities. In addition to that, emergency shelters and after-school programs can also take part in this program.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides various forms of nutritional support to (you guessed it) qualifying women and children. Eligible recipients can get monthly vouchers for food items that they need. In addition to that, they can also benefit from healthcare referrals, and nutritional counseling at participating clinics. Actually, there are roughly 10,000 clinic sites that WIC recipients can visit! Not only that, about 47,000 retailers across the U.S. accept these food vouchers.

Eligibility Requirements for WIC

The following are some of the eligibility requirements individuals must meet with WIC:

  • Pregnant women: Need to meet income guidelines and have a medical/nutritional need.
  • New mothers: Must meet income guidelines and are postpartum up to six months.
  • Breastfeeding mothers: Meet income guidelines and are currently breastfeeding up to the infant’s first birthday.
  • Infants/children: Up to the age of five.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the USDA is credited for providing this food assistance program. However, much like the other programs on this list, WIC is state administered. Hopeful recipients can reach out to their state agency in order to get more information on the program. There are currently 89 agencies operating WIC today, including all 50 U.S. states, five different territories, and more.

National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has been benefiting children in both public and private schools since 1946! That year, former President Truman signed into effect the National School Lunch Act. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the USDA funds this initiative, as well as other federal meal programs. However, state agencies are responsible for working with schools to administer the program. Children of qualifying families can benefit from nutritionally balanced lunches at either no cost or a low cost to them. Schools that take part in this program receive reimbursements for the lunches that they serve. Furthermore, participating facilities are obligated to follow certain nutrition guidelines.

In order to qualify for this program, families need to meet certain income guidelines. Furthermore, these guidelines determine whether a family can get free or reduced-cost lunches. To get free lunches, a family’s income cannot exceed 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. Meanwhile, families that make between 130% – 185% of the poverty level can get reduced-cost lunches. Lastly, qualifying children are served lunches with NSLP every day that school is in session. This can provide a huge relief to a family that’s struggling, knowing that their child is being fed at least one nutritious meal per day!

School Breakfast Program (SBP)

Another meal program that can benefit children while in school is the School Breakfast Program (SBP). There are quite a few similarities between NSLP and this program. With that being said, SBP is designed to provide free or reduced-priced breakfast to eligible children on school days. To qualify for these meal programs, a child’s household must meet specific income guidelines. However, there are a few other ways that a child can receive these breakfasts. For example, children that are currently experiencing homelessness, are a migrant, runaway, or foster child can qualify. In addition to that, children whose households are already getting benefits from SNAP or Head Start can participate.

Both public schools and non-profit private schools can take part in this federal initiative. Furthermore, residential childcare centers and charter schools can also operate SBP. State agencies are responsible for entering into agreements with facilities that want to participate. Cash subsidies are handed out in order to reimburse schools and other locations for the nutritious meals. To get more information about this program, you can reach out to your state’s administering agency. You can look online for the best contact information!

Special Milk Program (SMP)

The Special Milk Program (SMP) is the last school meals program that we are going to highlight in this article. During the school day, SMP provides students with a free milk beverage. However, there are nutrition guidelines that the milk needs to satisfy! Lastly, there are various local and state standards that the milk must meet.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

TEFAP dates all the way back to 1983! The program has progressed over time in order to meet the needs of food insecure Americans. However, the goal has been the same. The program provides needed assistance to help supplement the diets of low-income households. This is accomplished by distributing emergency food supplies through local agencies such as food pantries and soup kitchens.

To qualify for TEFAP assistance, individuals must meet certain income requirements based on their household size. It is essential to check your state’s regulations, as there may be extra qualifications for eligibility. You can find contact information for your state agency on the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website.

Before food reaches local organizations such as soup kitchens, it first passes through a few channels. First, the USDA purchases nutritious foods in bulk. Then these resources are distributed out to state agencies, such as food banks. From there, the food banks make the supplies available to local organizations that directly serve their communities.

Types of Food You Can Expect to Receive with TEFAP

Food banks make a variety of food items available to local organizations for TEFAP recipients to benefit from. However, there are broad categories of food that you can expect. This includes:

  • Protein
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Dairy
  • Oils

Specific food items within these categories are based on availability. Furthermore, the USDA has guidelines in place to ensure that recipients benefit from well-balanced emergency food assistance for free!

Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is designed to improve the health of qualifying low-income seniors aged 60 years or older. This program supplements their diets with nutritious USDA Foods by distributing administrative funds and food through state agencies that work with local organizations. CSFP does not determine eligibility or directly distribute food to recipients. Instead, public and nonprofit private organizations decide who is eligible and hand out food packages to qualifying seniors. Recipients can expect to receive supplementary food items that can provide nutrients they may not be getting enough of. CSFP includes a variety of healthy, shelf-stable foods such as:

  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Beans, rice, pasta, and cereal
  • Canned meats such as chicken and tuna

Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP & SFMNP)

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) share a similar purpose. They both aim to support local agriculture while supplying individuals in need with nutritious produce. This goal is accomplished by providing fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets to qualifying recipients. While both programs share similar goals, each one is intended to serve a different part of the population.

Who is Eligible for Each Program?

  • FMNP: Pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding women, infants over four months old, and children up to five years old who are participating in the WIC program.
  • SFMNP: Seniors that are at least 60 years old and meet certain income guidelines.

How to Use Vouchers at Participating Farmers Markets

Vouchers provided by FMNP and SFMNP can be used at authorized farmers’ markets, roadside stands, or community-supported agriculture programs. Recipients can trade their vouchers for eligible foods. These include fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey. If you’re interested in learning more about either of these opportunities, check out this FNS website. From there, you can look up the contact information for the state agency that handles FMNP or SFMNP.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help food insecure households by providing monthly nutritional benefits. This food assistance program is one of the largest in the United States. SNAP works by distributing funds every month that can be used on groceries at authorized retailers. Eligibility for this program isn’t the same in every state. State agencies handle applications and administer benefits to current recipients. If you’re interested in benefiting from SNAP, you can get started by reaching out to your state agency. You can go online, speak to someone over the phone, or go into the office in person.

SNAP distributes benefits to qualifying recipients through an electronic system. This system is Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT). Approved recipients can manage and spend their benefits using their own EBT card. It’s important to remember that EBT can’t be used to buy anything. Only eligible food items are approved for purchase with SNAP.


Food insecurity is a major issue in the United States, with millions of people struggling to afford enough food to eat. There are various government food assistance programs available to help. Eligibility requirements vary by program. Furthermore, the type of relief you can expect depends on which program you’re able to benefit from. Whether you’re looking for support with your grocery bill or assistance in a pinch, there is likely a program that can help you. Some programs can even offer nutritional guidance and other beneficial services! If you’re struggling to provide enough food for yourself or your family, you shouldn’t wait to get the help that you need! You don’t have to struggle without support. There are plenty of available options that can get you the relief you’ve been searching for.