Do I qualify for food stamps?
September 2, 2006 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Food Stamp Filter: I'm a new graduate student in a 5 year program and my fellowship, while nice, precludes me from taking out any student loans. my mom suggested I look into food stamps, but I can't figure out if I qualify. Help!

I'm a 22 year old Michigan resident, attending a Michigan school. My stipend amounts to 10,000 a year, or about 800 a month. My rent is 325 plus 30 for internet and 50 for phone.
My specific questions include:

Do fellowships count as income? It's technically gift money, I'm not working any hours for it. If so, my income would be $0

Does living with a roomate mean that I have to include her in my "household" or does that refer to households as far as single budgets?

I'm kinda feeling guilty about thinking about it, but lord knows I have another five years of schooling ahead of me and any less debt I can accrue would save me in the long run, and having money for food would definitely lessen anxiety about having enough money for bills and emergencies. My meds cost a ton in copays alone.

Any answers, suggestions or personal experience would help so much! Thanks.
posted by gilsonal to Work & Money (18 answers total)
I tried to sign up for food stamps while I was in college. I got rejected, and if I recall correctly, I got rejected mostly because I was a student. It wasn't because I had too much money, I had zero money (they even made me log them into my bank account over the phone so they could check my balance). This was in Texas about 13 years ago.
posted by popechunk at 11:53 AM on September 2, 2006

No answer to your question, but it might help others to know whether or not you have a job of any sort...and if so, how many hours and how much $$$?
posted by davidmsc at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2006

Michigan has a tool to tell you whether you're eligible.

I wouldn't feel guilty about it. Unless your last name is Bush, Gates, Buffett or Kennedy.
posted by jellicle at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2006

You're not (I'm sure) prevented from getting a line of credit from a bank, though. I'm a grad student myself and my previous employment and assets prevented me from getting a student loan but I did get a line of credit to cover my living expenses. I'm in Canada, but I'm sure it's the same in the US.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:19 PM on September 2, 2006

I know of a few grad. students here in Illinois who get food stamps, so it's at least possible here.
posted by KirTakat at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2006

I can't speak to Michigan, but relative of mine got food stamps as an undergrad in Oregon, so it's not completely impossible. I'd probably just call the offices of the appropriate authority and ask them.
posted by willpie at 12:34 PM on September 2, 2006

Although you're asking about federal food stamps, you may want to see if there's an Angel Food Ministries in your area. I've been eating off of them for the past week since the pickup. Bonus, they do take food stamps.
posted by pieoverdone at 12:41 PM on September 2, 2006

Response by poster: I don't have a job unfortunately. I work about 50 hours a week at school, but i'm not paid for it.
posted by gilsonal at 12:43 PM on September 2, 2006

Do the terms of your fellowship prevent you from getting a loan? I have hard time believing you wouldn't be eligible for private student loans at the least. Otherwise, it seems like you ought to be able to survive on $400/month and a backup credit card for emergencies.
posted by footnote at 12:51 PM on September 2, 2006

Best answer: Okay, I don't know the details of Michigan, but because of my job, I'm fairly well-versed in food stamps eligibility.

Basically, unless you buy groceries with your roommate and share meals, they are not included in your assistance unit - so it's just you. You should have less than $2000 in assets (cars, savings accounts, CD's, etc.), and not recently have sold or given anything of great value away. (There's an interview portion where you can explain things like this, so this isn't exactly a bright line requirement.) Your income must be (if I remember correctly) 135% of the federal poverty limit or lower - even if the fellowship counts, your income, I believe, qualifies, since that number is applied to your income after certain deductions are made. Because you are a student, you are exempt from work requirements.

This site should help get you started; you can also go through a simple calculator at The Benefit Bank to get a rough idea if you qualify. (Full disclosure - I am employed by The Benefit Bank.)

The process consists of filling out a form and undergoing an interview process; if you pass the requirements and the interview, you will begin getting foodstamps within 30 days.

Don't feel guilty. You have a right to not go hungry, and this program is in place for a reason. You pay taxes for things like this.

Disclaimer: I am not a social worker. This is from memory, having worked on a program designed to assist people in applying for food stamps.
posted by kalimac at 1:04 PM on September 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do fellowships count as income? It's technically gift money, I'm not working any hours for it. If so, my income would be $0

They do count, at least for federal income tax purposes, if they're used for living expenses. There is no line on the 1040whatever forms, but you're supposed to write it in. There's an IRS publication about this somewhere.

Have you considered looking for different/additional fellowships? I wouldn't have actually called a 10k fellowship that blocked student loans "nice", though the cost of living looks pretty low where you are. You will probably at least be able to get a job in the summer if you need one, as well. Perhaps, as someone above suggested, you can still get private loans?
posted by advil at 1:56 PM on September 2, 2006

I wouldn't have actually called a 10k fellowship that blocked student loans "nice", though the cost of living looks pretty low where you are.

Actually, scratch that. I still don't know if it's great, but the ratio of your rent to your pay is not really that much different than mine (I'm paying twice that, and that's a pretty good deal for where I live!). But you still could look for additional fellowships.
posted by advil at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2006

There is no line on the 1040whatever forms, but you're supposed to write it in.

Everyone I know who's gotten a fellowship has had tax taken out beforehand, so they never got the full amount.
posted by oaf at 5:59 PM on September 2, 2006

I was married in graduate school, had kids, and got lots of WIC. Now we buy more cheese than we probably should. As far as guilt goes, the government now takes 13k a year out of my income, which should more than cover any assistance I got during that period with enough left over to bomb people in other countries.
posted by craniac at 9:40 PM on September 2, 2006

I have pretty similar finances to you and I qualify in Oregon. Caseworkers are used to drawing blood out of a turnip, so they really like it when they have a client with their ducks in a row: Current bank statements, a few (3) back months of paystubs or any other income verification, proof of student status, picture ID, social security card, immigration documents, rental agreement or receipts, utility bills, property (e.g. car) titles, proof of state residency (driver's license), and utility bills. Don't sweat it if you don't have it all together, though, like I said, they're used to it.

Within my peer group (we're stipended volunteers), there has been a lot of discrepancy between the amount of food stamps allotted, so if you know anybody else in your situation, it might be a good idea to get a feeling for what's normal. Some people got amazingly small amounts (including a middle aged woman with two adopted teenage children!), but if you get too much you will have to pay it back even if it was your caseworkers' fault.

All of this is based on my experience in Oregon. You should get over your stigma. If it helps, tell yourself that you'll pay it forward to the hunger charity of your choice when you're all done. Any more, the only people who know are your caseworker, your check-out clerk and the guy behind you in line if he's particularly nosey. Swiping an EBT card looks just like using a debit card.
posted by Skwirl at 2:23 AM on September 3, 2006

Everyone I know who's gotten a fellowship has had tax taken out beforehand, so they never got the full amount.

I think this varies an awful lot, because I don't know anyone who's had the tax taken out beforehand. In fact, I don't even know anyone who was even getting taxed including the fellowship, given various educational exemptions (except maybe people with an NSF). But you are supposed to declare it.
posted by advil at 2:14 PM on September 3, 2006

Also, for general help in setting up your grad school finances -- ask around! Your school very likely has resources intended to help grad students with issues like this -- even if just someone in the Dean of Grad Students' office who can talk you through financial options. Some schools offer loans to students at good rates; some can tell you which local credit unions to deal with etc; some schools have the ability to make small emergency loans for students who are in dire need (it sounds like you're not there right now but it's good to know about fallback options). Ask your DGS for info about who to contact if you feel comfortable, or ask in the Dean of Students' office, or ask at Health/Counseling Services. If your school has a grad student representative body, talk to someone there and see if they have info on strategies people have used.

There may also be outside sources of funding (grants from philanthropic organizations etc) you can apply for so that next year you have more fellowship money. Talk to your DGS about implications of getting outside support -- some schools allow you to have 2 fellowships at once, and some don't.

And re: taking out a loan to cover your living expenses. How much of a loan you can safely take out depends on your job prospects in your subject area when you're done! Be realistic about this. Don't take out a big loan if you're in a humanities department where it's hard to find jobs and the pay is low for beginning professors.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:05 PM on September 3, 2006

About taxes and fellowships. This varies by state and institution. When I have had fellowships, the university would not withhold from them, but they were taxable income. So I had a huge tax bill ($1000+, IIRC) at the end of the year. Good to look into this issue in advance. Again, someone at the university should be able to help with this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:07 PM on September 3, 2006

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