Food stamps allows students to save money

Many college students are using food stamps as an alternative to lowering their grocery costs. Not only do they get free groceries, but they also have an opportunity to keep some extra cash in their pockets at the end of the month.

To be eligible for food stamps, students must be at least 18 years old, mentally and physically fit, enrolled in an institution of higher learning at least part time and working at least 20 hours a week. Students with young children are also eligible if they are caring for a child or if they are unable to provide adequate childcare.

“The amount awarded to each individual student varies depending on a student’s situation and income,” said Gwen Jackson, a social worker at the Department of Children and Families. “Usually a student who’s single and caring for a young child will receive more than a student without a child because there is a larger need base.”

Students can visit a local Department of Children & Families to speak with a social worker who can evaluate their case and determine their eligibility. Students should bring two forms of identification for the first interview such as a Social Security card or a picture ID. If the required criteria are met, another interview will be scheduled.

“Students must bring in a copy of their current lease, utility and telephone bills, check stubs from the last eight weeks, and any other documents of assets such as a bank statement from a savings or checking account, car title and registration, insurance or anything else in their name,” said Linda Russell, an interview clerk at the department.

Stephanie Gomez, 19, a freshman political science student from Jacksonville, just found out that she is eligible to receive food stamps.

“Basically using food stamps will allow me to put some money aside and save it,” Gomez said. “And instead of spending it on groceries, I can use the extra money to go pay my rent, bills, books and other miscellaneous things that come up during the month.”

She has already gone through the interview and application process and is currently waiting for her Electronic Benefit Transfer card and pin number.

“Once approved it takes about three to five days to receive your EBT card and another two to three days to receive your pin number,” said Tina Worley, the building manager at the department.

The EBT card works just like a credit card. It is an account that contains the allotment amount and can be used at any grocery store that accepts EBT cards. This card can be used to purchase food only. Alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, pet food or any other products not suited for human consumption cannot be purchased with an EBT card.

The card is good for three months, after which time it must be renewed. To renew the card, a student must return for another interview to verify if anything has changed during the three-month period. Students are advised to keep all documents pertaining to rent, bill payments and work statements, so they can be available for review during the next interview.

“It’s best to apply within the first four days of the month,” said Ada Wilson, a social worker at the department. “That way you can receive your full benefit allotment for the three months. If not, the first month will be prorated and you’d receive your full allotment for the next two months. We do give clients the option of waiting until the next month to begin the process. That way if they want to have to have their benefits prorated, they can.”

Russell said that students may find food stamps to be quite beneficial.

“It could allow them to save some extra cash at the end of the month,” she said. “Sometimes students don’t really think about grocery costs when they look at their monthly budget. With fast food places and late night deliveries, grocery costs may not be a big concern, but food stamps give students an alternative to go to the grocery store and stock up on a larger variety of foods that provide nutrition, which is a change from what they might be accustomed to.”