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Accessing Safe Foods During a Disaster

Learn more about food assistance programs that could help your family

For people with food allergies, access to safe food is critical to preventing life-threatening allergic reactions. Many food-allergic individuals struggle with the burden of higher-cost foods. Even more face food-insecurity during a natural disaster or pandemic like coronavirus (COVID-19), when it can especially challenging to find nutritious, allergy-friendly food.

To help address this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided flexibility in some of its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) programs to expand access and better serve participants. Here are several FNS programs that might offer you support in times of need.

USDA Child Nutrition Program

Who is eligible:  Children 18 years and younger may receive free meals and snacks through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The federally-funded, state-administered program is offering free meals to children during school closures due to coronavirus.

Income eligibility: Typically, children must live in a low income area, but due to the current pandemic, many schools are distributing food to children with no other restrictions.  

How to apply: Contact your State Distributing Agency (SDA) for further assistance.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

Who is eligible: TEFAP is a federal program that provides emergency food support for low-income Americans at no cost. You may be able to get food assistance from a local TEFAP organization if you receive foods from a food pantry or if you eat meals at soup kitchens. 

Income eligibility: Whether or not you are eligible to receive TEFAP foods depends on your household income level. Your state decides the income standards for TEFAP. In some states, you may qualify for TEFAP if you already participate in other income-based federal, state, or local food, health, or welfare programs. 

How to apply: Contact your State Distributing Agency (SDA) for further assistance.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Who is eligible: TANF is a program for pregnant women or people responsible for a child under 19 years of age.

Income eligibility: Specific eligibility criteria are set by the state or territory that distributes the benefits, but in general applicants must have low income and be either under-employed, unemployed or about to become unemployed. 

How to apply: You must apply and meet the eligibility requirements of the state or territory you live in. Visit the  Office of Family Assistance website and select your location to learn more. 

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Who is eligible: WIC is a federal nutrition assistance program for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age 5.  

Income eligibility: Your income must be no more than 185 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines. For example, a family of four must make no more than $47,638 gross (before taxes are withheld) a year to qualify. View the current income maximums here.  

Nutrition risk: A health professional must determine you are at medical risk due to a medical or dietary condition. This could include food allergy or other medically-restricted diets.

How to apply: You must apply through the state you live in.  Visit the USDA Food and Nutrition website and select your location to learn how to apply.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Who is eligible: SNAP provides assistance to a variety of families and individuals, including those without child dependents.

Income eligibility: Your income must be no more than 130 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines for gross (before taxes) monthly income AND 100 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines for net (after deductions) monthly income. This means a family of four must make $2,790 or less gross (before taxes) and $2,146 net (after allowable deductions) in order to qualify. View the current income maximums here

Resource restrictions: In addition to meeting the income requirements, applicants for SNAP must may only have up to $2,250 in countable resources (such as cash or a vehicle), or if the household has a member who is disabled or over 60, up to $3,500. 

Work requirements: SNAP does have work requirements for recipients ages 16-59 who are able to work. The general work requirements include registering for work, participating in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) or workfare, taking a suitable job if offered and not voluntarily quitting or reducing your work below 30 hours a week without a good reason. Read more about the work requirements and allowed exceptions

How to apply: You must apply through the state you live in. Visit the SNAP State Directory and select your state to learn how to apply. 

Food Banks and Soup Kitchens

Food banks are a great resource for those facing food insecurity, but during a pandemic or natural disaster, they are often stretched thin. They may especially struggle to accommodate people with food allergies or other medically-restricted diets due to a lack of volunteers and resources. If you are able, consider supporting local food banks, particularly those who specialize in supporting those with food allergies. To learn more about navigating food banks with allergies or to find an allergy-friendly food bank, visit FARE's food bank resources. 

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