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How to go about getting foodstamps
February 9, 2011 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: can you still get food stamps if you work under the table? Her bf no longer qualifies, but she still needs them.

(letting her do this): I work as a nanny, and make about 700-900 a month. My live-in bf used to qualify for 175 a month in foodstamps, which was enough for both of us. His freelance writing career is starting to take off and he won't qualify for benefits anymore. I still need them, as we are financially independent of each other. These are our options right now:

A: He applies, and says that we share food and I want foodstamps too. I claim my full income or don't.
B: I apply independently, and get my own foodstamps. I have no way of proving my income though. I'm a little worried that the IRS or whatever will try to track me down through this.
C: I say he supports me and I apply by myself. I claim very little income. I probably won't do this because I don't want to lie, even though it seems somewhat acceptable to do.
D: Go to the foodstamps office and explain the situation. Hope we get someone nice.

Any help of which to pick and why would be very appreciated. I feel a little lost and everyone I know is telling me to do different things. Any personal experiences would be great too.

Please do not lecture me about the ethical implications of claiming benefits from a government I do not contribute to financially. I would rather pay taxes but I love my job and this is where my skillset is. The job market in our town is among the worst in the country and quitting is not an option. This is in Oregon.
posted by Betty_effn_White to Work & Money (25 answers total)
 
Option D is the only choice you have. If you don't honestly qualify then you should not get benefits.
posted by JayRwv at 7:42 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


One is responsible for filing and paying taxes even if one is paid in cash. So your friend should be filing her taxes; by not doing so, she is getting herself in for a world of trouble. I say this not to lecture her about ethics, but to alert her to how tenacious the IRS is. (And note: she probably doesn't owe any taxes, and may even qualify for EIC, at that level of compensation, so she is jeopardizing herself for nothing there.)

"Someone nice" at the foodstamps office isn't the issue. No matter how nice the person is, they're not going to risk their job to knowingly falsify your friend's documents. The Oregon SNAP (the new name for foodstamps in Oregon) website is pretty clear that one has to have proof of income.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:49 PM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


If I recall correctly from my foodstamp days, financial independence is not the metric they use, it's P&P whether you purchase and prepare food together. I'm unclear if this is

1. the reality of your situation, and
2. something you understand

If your boyfriend's contributions to the house food budget was something you "need" then you're not actually financially independent. I get that you're not married, but it might be helpful to be assessing this situation as clearly as you can.

So, given this, I'd suggest either A or B. The IRS is not privy to what you tell the food stamp people to the best of my knowledge (I'd google or ask professionals to confirm) so you can legitimately claim under the table work for the purposes of food stamps and not worry about taxes. Food stamps are one of those things where you getting them does not mean that someone else won't, so I'd just report your earnings as honestly as you can and muddle forward that way. Congrats to your bf and his writing taking off, but that could also change as well so it's worthwhile to try to play this as straight and narrow as you can.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do qualify though. I am poor, at least by white american standards.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 7:50 PM on February 9, 2011


I would call and ask what they require, and what they accept, as "proof of income." Maybe a statement from the employer would suffice?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:58 PM on February 9, 2011


I would also ask what you can present as proof of income.
I'm willing to bet that the reason the OP's friend works under the table is not because they want to avoid paying taxes (she probably doesn't make enough to have to pay much, if anything in federal income tax [I live in a no state income tax state, so I know nothing about that part]). It's probably because her employer doesn't want to have any tax or reporting responsibility for their employee(s) and/or is paying her below minimum wage (since Oregon's is nearly $1/hr above the national minimum).
posted by elpea at 8:08 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jessamyn: I get the P&P thing. It's about half and half, so I'm not sure which one it is better to say. We don't like the same foods and I cook once or twice a week for the both of us. If I say that I want foodstamps on his form, I don't think I need proof of income. Last time he did the forms he said we didn't share food and I didn't want foodstamps, so I'm not sure what would happen if we said otherwise.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 8:09 PM on February 9, 2011


elpea: Bingo, even though I make more than minimum wage. I really don't want to bug my employer or risk getting them in any sort of trouble.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 8:11 PM on February 9, 2011


I recently applied for food stamps in California and was turned down. It's not a question of getting someone nice. The rules are pretty strict. In CA you can check to see if you qualify online, you don't have to actually apply, unless you want to. In CA, the monthly max income is $1174 for one person, $1579 for two. They want proof of income.

So in your scenarios listed above I would go with A and have your boyfriend say he supports you both. B sounds OK too but I would worry about the proof of income. Check online for Oregon's rules.

I didn't qualify because I get $1800 in unemployment. The fact that I pay $1625 in rent was irrelevant. ;-(

Good luck.
posted by shoesietart at 8:36 PM on February 9, 2011


Food stamps people are incredibly strict and applying it (at least every time I've applied) is a humiliating process. You may be able to use copies of checks from your employer as proof along with a monthly bank statement. I'm pretty sure if you say you P&P with your boyfriend, his income will be considered in the equation.
posted by schroedinger at 8:57 PM on February 9, 2011


You should just be able to ask your employer to write up your income. So long as you qualify that should work, however I'm not in your state. I don't do living partners so I don't know how that works, I'm pretty sure that they will count his income, and pretty much, you should go along with however they want to do it. I totally believe in helping low income people get food, but there really are limited funds, so don't use the services if you don't really qualify! Everyone's advice to pay your taxes is good! : )

If you're really struggling to get food and your bf is really a stickler about hoarding his own food even though him living with you will mess up your foodstamps, you could also consider telling him he can share food or get his butt out.

Another option.

LOL : )
posted by xarnop at 9:27 PM on February 9, 2011


At this point I'm starting to think it would be better to just say my boyfriend supports me. It's easier to say I get various babysitting jobs than jump through hoops to prove what I make.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 9:30 PM on February 9, 2011


B is the correct choice. You can use copies of your paychecks as your proof of income, or get a note from your employer saying how much they paid you. If you can't do either of those things, maybe a copy of your bank statement with your wages highlighted would work.

You can get food stamps if you work under the table, but it's in your best interests to be as honest with DHS as possible.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:17 PM on February 9, 2011


Please do not lecture me about the ethical implications of claiming benefits from a government I do not contribute to financially. I would rather pay taxes but I love my job and this is where my skillset is. The job market in our town is among the worst in the country and quitting is not an option. This is in Oregon.

Forget the ethics. They'll realize right off the bat that you're ripping them off. If you tell them that you have no income, no assets, no employment history, and nobody that claims you as a dependent, but somehow have a mailing address and are not visibly starving...would you believe that story?

Also, if you think that you're being paid under the table, there's a finite chance that you're not. One year, I got a W2 in the mail from an employer that paid me cash, never collected a W4, etc... Turns out he wanted to straighten up his image, and had suspicions that he was about to be audited. In the end, I had to shell out some money to pay back what I owed the fed, which was relatively painful at the time given that I didn't expect it. Because your income's so low, your total tax liability should also be fairly small.

Also, presumably you will eventually want to be making more money than you currently do. It's a good idea to start a paper trail now, because your small tax problem today could very well gradually turn into a gigantic tax problem 5 years down the road that could land you in prison.

Just do your taxes, and be honest with the folks at the food stamp office. Be 100% honest, but very careful about how you describe your relationship with your BF.
posted by schmod at 10:51 PM on February 9, 2011


If you do not have "traditional" proof of income (paychecks or even a letter from your employer), you will need to fill out forms to show where you are getting your living expenses from. This can involve your boyfriend or family members saying they take care of the stuff (other than food) and while invasive, doesn't necessarily have to be true. (You could say that a parent was giving you money, even if this wasn't the case -- and not claim it as "income" in this sense.)

If you are going for most bang for your buck, since you aren't married, I would apply separately from your boyfriend, as combining yourself as a household will mean less benefits.

Remember, if at any time in this process they discover that you have lied -- or left out information -- it is possible that you will not only be removed from the program but be ineligible for it in the future.

The IRS will not be able to track you down through this; however, if anyone does pay you in a way that is reported to the IRS, the state will be aware of this income and use it in calculating the amount you get (even if you don't claim it.) (Actually, this happened in Illinois - according to my boyfriend who used to work in social services and has also benefited from them; can't speak for Oregon.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:52 PM on February 9, 2011


It's not a morally great thing to work under the table and claim food stamps if you wouldn't legally qualify for them were your income to be reported. If it was a question of giving up smoking or lying to get food stamps, I'd urge you to give up smoking. If it's a question of starving or lying to get food stamps, I could see some alternative life version of myself doing what needed to be done. I'm no saint, and I don't expect anyone else to be either. It's far better than direct theft of goods and suffering health problems from stress and malnutrition. Regardless of whether you chose A or B, I suspect you would have to prove your income, so that hurdle will have to be crossed in any case.

I'd urge you or your friend or whomever to speak to a local church or charity group and see if there is a food pantry, soup kitchen, or some other such organization that can provide low or no cost food. There are tons of those programs around, and there is very little stigma attached to them. The volunteers truly want to help. It's very likely that there are numerous non-governmental sources of food assistance in your town, even if it's not a very big town. You may be surprised. I know I was.

Another possibility is continuing to apply for part-time work if at all possible. There's a big difference between sporadic babysitting on the one hand, and a regular paycheck + sporadic babysitting on the other. $175 is less than the pay you would receive for 30 hours of work. Not 30 hours per week, but 30 hours total. Since the babysitting isn't being reported, you'd pay no taxes and get money back with an EIC at the end of the year. Almost any job at all will get you at least 30 hours a month, and many employers, like Starbucks, now offer medical insurance plans to part-time employees. I hope it's not insulting to reiterate that the amount of assistance you're talking about is so low that literally any paying legit job would put you ahead of the game.

I understand that scheduling problems might hurt your babysitting prospects, but it's worth the attempt at least.

Finally, don't be afraid to dress up nice and walk into a strange church and ask for help. Even if you aren't religious. I'm not at all, but charitable works is one of the good things churches do for their communities. Help them be good people by letting them help you. Walk into any business near you, ask to speak with the manager, shake their hand, and see if they need any help. Post fliers up for your babysitting business in libraries and book stores to get more work. Etc.

It would probably be good to pursue as many avenues as possible rather than putting all your hope and expectations into just one. I know that when I'm in a bad spot, doing a variety of things to get out of it is at least psychologically beneficial.
posted by jsturgill at 11:02 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


it is possible that you will not only be removed from the program but be ineligible for it in the future

Additionally, there may be legal penalties, and you may have to pay back everything. In my state, receiving between $100 and $5000 of food stamp benefits fraudulently is a felony. It is potentially also a federal felony. Keep that in mind. Still, prosecution is rare in cases where someone is borderline or just went over in their last period. It's the chronic abusers and signature forgers and so forth that they prosecute.

Please do not lecture me about the ethical implications of claiming benefits from a government I do not contribute to financially.

I'm not sure where this comes from. There are obviously benefits that are available to people who are below the income levels that are taxed. There are, for example, people who are utterly unable to work.

The eligibility for food stamps, and other benefits such as health care, in my state is based on a multiple of the federal poverty level for the size of your family. As financially independent roommates, you are both families of the size of 1, which isn't an advantageous position compared to full-sized families, but there is still a multiple under which you'll be eligible. According to Google, the income limit in Oregon is 185% of the FPL for that state, which was $1670 for 2010 or $2247 for a family of 2. If you say bf is no longer eligible I'm assuming he's crossing the first limit and that puts your family income at around $2500. Still, usually the FPL measurement is based on the previous 6 or 12 months of income, not your current income per se.

There may be other alternatives. My community has orgs like the Salvation Army, and our church is one offering a free meal once a month. Someone I spoke to there explained how it filled a gap as there was now a church/NPO meal every weekend day, supplementing the SA weekday meals (or something like that). Eligibility was anyone receiving any sort of state assistance.

Additionally, we have a multi-church NPO that organizes a community grocery day when everyone could get a free sack or two of groceries. This same group serves as an assistance clearinghouse, steering people toward state or local assistance programs as eligible.

Finally, there are food co-ops where you buy everything at wholesale prices. We participate in one of these ourselves, purchasing about $75 in groceries every month that would be worth $150 retail, and we have relatives who are struggling that we are trying to get to participate.
posted by dhartung at 12:15 AM on February 10, 2011


OP, I would like to point you to Angel Food Ministries. Your profile states you're in the Portland area and there are 2 sites in Portland that offer it (both churches, although AFAIK there is no church membership or belief requirement). It's discounted food and anyone can get it, you don't even have to apply. You may still not be able to afford them, but should you get food stamps, they accept them. I realize this is not directly answering your question but is addressing your need of food. Also check out local food pantries. I hope that this helps you.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:42 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clear up a couple things: If my income were reported, even my whole income, I would qualify about 12$ less than if I claimed no income at all. Also I'm not starving or anything (but thank you for the concern). We just found out my bf didn't get paid for most of his gigs last month, so that buys us another 6 months before we reapply. I think I will ask tomorrow how to get proof of income from my employer and to either apply independently or under his account for now.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:18 AM on February 10, 2011


I work for the State of TN managing Food Stamp cases. Though the rules here and in CA will vary slightly, the basics of the program are the same. The reason that you were not included in the case before is because he gave his caseworker information indicating that you were irrelevant to the case. It's what jessamyn mentioned earlier about "purchasing and preparing separately." Because you are unmarried, we have no way to prove that the two of you aren't just roommates.

Here are some possible scenarios, based on the information you gave above:

A: He applies, and says that we share food and I want foodstamps too. I claim my full income or don't.

This is the correct way to handle this situation. If the two of you share a household (you do) and food (you do), you should report both your income AND his income. The gross monthly income limit for a two-person household is $1549 / mo.

B: I apply independently, and get my own foodstamps. I have no way of proving my income though. I'm a little worried that the IRS or whatever will try to track me down through this.

Proving your income is a non-issue. I have literally hundreds of clients working jobs where they don't get "offical" paychecks. I generally just ask for the employer to write out a statement with the hourly/daily/per job rate of pay, hours worked per week, length of employment, etc.

C: I say he supports me and I apply by myself. I claim very little income. I probably won't do this because I don't want to lie, even though it seems somewhat acceptable to do.

Basically any caseworker will kill that one in a heartbeat. If he "supports" you financially and you live together, his income counts.

D: Go to the foodstamps office and explain the situation. Hope we get someone nice.

If you came into my office today and explained things as you did above, I would not be able to help you unless both of you qualify together. And it wouldn't be because I'm not nice, it's because I have to do my job. I can't look at you independently because you are not independent. Best case scenario right now is to add yourself to his case. Another person with no income would mean a pretty significant bump in the amount he's getting. Just be sure that if his montly income exeeds $1500 / mo or so, you let your caseworker know. Paying back benefits is no fun. Good luck!
posted by kella at 6:04 AM on February 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oregon Helps will help you see what sorts of aid you qualify for.

Also, at least a few years ago, Oregon's income limit for foodstamps was 185% of poverty level rather than the standard 130% of poverty level because DHS found a loophole in the federal rules. Income limits from other states may not apply. IANYCaseworker.

I was getting paid via personal check, no taxes taken out, when I was on food stamps. I think they called my employer, but it wasn't oppressive. It did kind of suck to tell my employer I was applying, but he wasn't paying me a living wage, so... Another thing to consider is that if you say you are unemployed, they may require you to enroll in a jobs program to receive benefits.

Don't lie to DHS. They will make you pay back any benefits you weren't entitled to if they discover the fraud. There may be other sanctions. Don't do it.
posted by momus_window at 9:20 AM on February 10, 2011


At this point I'm starting to think it would be better to just say my boyfriend supports me. It's easier to say I get various babysitting jobs than jump through hoops to prove what I make.

That seems true as far as it goes. "I don't have an actual job, but I make about $700/month by babysitting--I can't document that, because I get paid in cash" seems like a reasonable description of your situation. It doesn't seem like a big omission to me to not mention that all the monthly babysitting money comes from one person, especially since it seems so important to you for them not to contact your employer.

Good luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:21 AM on February 10, 2011


I do qualify though. I am poor, at least by white american standards.

Ummm ... what?

Anyway, you've gotten some good advice here. I'm just piping in to say that you really don't want to mess around with being dishonest to collect benefits in this current economic climate. State coffers are so bare they need food stamps themselves. Be careful.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2011


Follow up: Honesty worked! They have a new thing in Portland where you can apply online in a little computer lab on site. There was a super helpful (and nice!) woman there that answered all of my questions as they came up. We were advised to file separately and we did. This way if my boyfriend stops qualifying for foodstamps I'll continue to get them. All they have to do is call my boss, which will be fine. I was assured that there's loads of people working under the table and no one gets in trouble. Everyone here has been really helpful, thank you so much!
posted by Betty_effn_White at 6:44 PM on February 10, 2011


I'm glad to see in your last update that you were completely honest with the DHS, as I would have advised that course of action as well, especially given the penalties that you would face if you provided misleading information and were caught.

I too am in Portland, and I just went through the application process for food stamps myself, so I thought it might be useful to share my experience in this thread. I was so scrupulously honest that I included every detail about my financial situation that I thought could possibly be relevant, including holiday gift income from last December. I was approved for the maximum food benefit ($200/mo.) with no difficulty at all, though in my case it's because I live alone in a family-owned condo and for the past year I've had NO income at all other than two very short freelancing gigs and occasional gifts/loans from family. (My caseworker told me gifts don't count, unless they're recurring; all they will be concerned about is your regular income. So I didn't even need to include the gift income on the application.)

For the benefit of anyone in Portland who finds this thread later, I want to add that if you're unemployed when you go in to the DHS to apply for food stamps, you will be required to attend a "food stamp employment transition" orientation. (This was quite a humbling experience for me, in part because I am from a relatively comfortable middle-class background, and this is the first time in my life that I have ever been forced to go on state assistance...but also because I felt there was some condescension in the way the orientation was presented.)

During the first 8 weeks that you receive food benefits, you'll be required to make three face-to-face contacts with an employer per week to inquire about jobs. You must document all of this in detail on work search log sheets, including contact names, phone numbers, start times and end times of interviews, etc. There is also a mandatory-attendance job fair. To assist with transportation during the job search, you'll receive free bus tickets or a $40 gas voucher. After you've turned in your log sheets in week 8, you won't be required to continue to document your job search to receive benefits. But you will be required to provide proof of income when asked to do so.

Portlanders, feel free to MeMail me with questions about the process; I'll gladly offer whatever advice and assistance I can. And there's no need to feel bad about accepting state assistance! So many of us are in this boat right now through no fault of our own. We're just living in a city that continues to have an abysmally bad job market. Even the stalwart Powell's Bookstore just laid off 7% of their workforce. Do what you need to in order to survive...and be honest with the DHS.
posted by velvet winter at 10:07 PM on February 10, 2011


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