In Colorado, there are four main programs that provide food assistance to qualifying residents. These programs include Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAP for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as well as the public school meal programs. These programs ensure that low-income families can provide a healthy, balanced diet for their households. Some programs are designed to provide temporary assistance, while others are available for longer terms. The programs have strict requirements that must be met in order to qualify. Not all who apply are accepted to receive food assistance services, as applications can be rejected for not meeting the specific requirements of the program. However, petitioners who are eligible for one of these programs may be automatically eligible for benefits from another program. Learning about Colorado food assistance programs and eligibility requirements is important before submitting an application.
Eligibility Requirements for Food Assistance Programs in Colorado
While each food assistance program has different requirements, thecommon qualification considered is household income. Households with income over the federally designated threshold cannot qualify for food assistance programs. However, it should be noted that disability payments oftentimes are exempted from calculations of netmonthly income and SNAP benefits are determined both by net and grossincome. Gross income is the total before tax deductions while net is the total after deductions. The two are taken into account in determining a household’s eligibility for federal food assistance programs.
Other factors towards food service program eligibility include identity and citizenship status. While U.S. citizens and legal immigrants are eligible, every person who is applying for benefits must either currently have or be in the process of applying for a Social Security Number.
SNAP WIC is reserved for pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children up to five years of age. Likewise, school meals like the breakfast, lunch and after school programs are exclusively available to qualifying children enrolled in the participatory school. TANF benefits, also known as Colorado Works, is available to households with children, not individuals.
Certain programs, like SNAP and TANF, have additional work requirements for those who do not meet exemption policies. Some of these work rules include registering for work, accepting suitable employment offers and participating in the Colorado Employment First program, which includes adult education, GED preparation, job search assistance as well as other valuable education opportunities to advance the career potential of the applicant. Failure to search for employment or participate in the reemployment program are grounds for revocation of benefits.
There are pre-screening tools available online, but they are only considered as a preliminary basis and have no guarantee that an applicant will be accepted or rejected for benefits. The tool also does not serve as an application, so those wishing for food assistance must fill out a separate document and return it to the appropriate government agency.
Applying for Food Service Programs in Colorado
The application method varies between food assistance programs. The easiest of the four food assistance programs to apply to is for school meals. Schools typically send the paper application home with students the first week of school. If a household receives benefits from SNAP or TANF, household children will be enrolled in free or discounted school meals by submitting the corresponding case number.
For the other food assistance programs, residents can apply online or drop off a paper application at local Colorado Department of Human Services office. Applications are offered in English, Spanish and in large print for individuals with impaired vision. Applicants are expected to fill out every section of the application, as much as possible. Representatives of the department can answer any questions or assist in filling out an application for Colorado food service programs.
Once the application is processed and approved, applicants will need to attend an interview, either in person at the county office or by telephone. The rules determining telephone interviews differ by county and not every county offers telephone interviews as an option. These interviews can be conducted with the head of the household, his or her spouse or any pre-approved representative.
For in-person interviews, documents providing proof of identity, citizenship or alien statuses, Social Security Numbers, any proof of recent income, statements from bank accounts, stocks and bonds as well as proof of residential costs, including rent or mortgage payments and all utility bills are required. For applicants performing the interview over the phone, the staff member or agent conducting the interview will give further instructions on how these documents are to be transmitted.
Using Food Assistance Program Benefits in Colorado
Benefits for those approved for Colorado food assistance programs are transmitted through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. Within the state, it is dubbed the Colorado Quest Card. This card looks and operates exactly like an everyday credit or debit card, which can be used at preapproved stores.
Benefits are distributed monthly on the same day each month. This schedule is not altered or interrupted by holidays or weekends. EBT card holders will also be given a personal identification number (PIN) to use to access the benefits account. This is to ensure that the recipient of food assistance program benefits has full control over the allocation of assistance. The card will not work without inputting the assigned PIN.
SNAP provides financial assistance to families on a monthly basis to purchase designated food items. The card and funds cannot be used to purchase non-food items such as over-the-counter medications, pet food or alcohol. The WIC Program offers temporary food assistance and support to low-income women who are pregnant, nursing or have young children living in the home. Like SNAP benefits, WIC will funds are only available to purchase certain foods and goods such as baby formula and milk. TANF, or Colorado Works, benefits provides approved families with cash assistance available to purchase foods as well as pay for housing costs such as rent and utilities. Children eligible for free or reduced-cost school meals will have no to very limited choice in the food provided at school.