General Information about Food Assistance & SUNCAP

The Food Assistance Program helps people with low-income buy healthy food. A food assistance household is normally a group of people who live together and buy food and cook meals together. If your household passes the Food Assistance Program’s eligibility rules, the amount of food assistance benefits you get depends on the number of people in your household and how much money is left after certain expenses are subtracted.

SUNCAP

The SUNCAP Program is a special Food Assistance Program for individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You may be eligible to receive food assistance benefits through the SUNCAP Program without any additional application, paperwork, or interviews. If you already receive food assistance benefits in the regular Food Assistance Program, you may be automatically put in the SUNCAP Program when you become SSI eligible. If your food assistance benefits will go down because of SUNCAP, you may choose to continue receiving your food assistance benefits under the regular Food Assistance Program.

Five Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Budget

By Susan Johnston, published on Jan. 9, 2012 at usnews.com

As rising fuel costs and demand drove up food prices last year, consumers throughout the country felt the pinch at the grocery store. Although predictions for 2012 aren’t as dramatic, the Department of Agriculture anticipates that grocery store prices will rise another 3 to 4 percent.

1.Create a list—and stick to it. Impulse buys add up quickly, especially at warehouse clubs, so shopping with a list helps prevent last-minute splurges. “Prepare for your shopping by looking at your weekly flyer for coupons and sales, then adjust your shopping list accordingly,” suggests Jon Lal, founder of the frugal living and money saving website BeFrugal.com. If there’s a sale on ground beef and salsa, make tacos or chili for dinner that week.

Planning meals and shopping trips in advance also reduces the number of shopping trips per week, saving time and money. “The average person is going to the grocery store two to three times a week, so if you limit it to once a week, you could cut your grocery bill,” says Annette Economides, who co-authored America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money with her husband Steve. The Economides feed their family of five on just one grocery trip and one produce run, totaling about $375 each month.

2. Stock up during sales. Buying according to the store’s sale cycle means rarely paying full price. Teri Gault, CEO and founder of grocery savings website TheGroceryGame.com, says buying several of one item when it’s on sale is a more powerful strategy than clipping coupons. “When you see oatmeal is on sale, buy two or three cartons because it may not go on sale for another 12 weeks,” she says. “I call it investing.”

Often, you can combine store coupons or manufacturers’ coupons with sales to boost your savings. “If you hold a coupon until the right time, you can really stack the deals,” Gault explains. “It’s not the coupon that’s giving you the deal, it’s the sale mostly, because the coupon might give you an extra 50 cents off.”

However, a little common sense should prevail when buying in bulk. Ask yourself: “Do I have the freezer or shelf space? How perishable is this item?” suggests Lal. When buying perishable items, Gault suggests looking for the date that’s furthest out to maximize the item’s lifespan. “If you look at the yogurt in the front and it has a week left, you reach into the back and find yogurt that’s good for five weeks,” she adds.

3.Buy produce by the unit instead of the pound. The Economides aren’t big on coupons, but they pay close attention to weight. “Each state has a division of weights and measures, and they require that a pound bag of carrots weigh at least one pound,” says Annette Economides. “We found that most of them were about 20 percent more per bag, but we were still paying the advertised price per pound versus loose carrots.” The same goes for bags of potatoes, apples, oranges, and other similar items.

4. Store items carefully. Spoiled food means wasted money, so the Economides eat produce in order of its perishability. Immediately after a produce run, they’ll focus on items like grapes or strawberries that have a shorter life span, then move onto to pears and broccoli the following week. Items like oranges or lettuce can last nearly a month with the right storage. “We’ve learned to store veggies carefully,” she explains. “We put a paper towel in the Ziploc bag with washed lettuce [to absorb moisture].” Once they run out of fresh produce, they’ll eat pickles or frozen veggies until the next produce trip. The family stores vacuum-packed meats in their deep freezer (another of their frugal strategies) for a year or longer.

5. Think beyond the grocery store. Nowadays, big-box stores, drug stores, online retailers, and even gas stations offer sales on food items. According to Lal, buying nonperishable food online is a particularly attractive option when you combine online coupon codes with free shipping offers and cash back. “Most people don’t tally up their total when they shop in a store, but shopping online keeps you true to your list and you can see your total as you go,” he says, adding that the convenience of ordering online could save time.