For those with a very low income, nutrition and diet can often become a problem. Fresh and healthy foods can be hard to find and are frequently more expensive than their less healthy counterparts. However, there are several programs available in Florida which can help those in need to afford or access more nutritious meals. Each program is designed to help a certain group, whether children in school, family units or organizations. Different programs also have different methods, with some providing cash assistance, some providing groceries and others providing the meals themselves. Some of these programs are run on a national level, while others are specific to the state of Florida. There are generally strict eligibility requirements for each of these programs in order to determine that those who receive benefits are truly in need of them. If eligible, however, any of these programs can be of great benefit to an individual’s and a family's health.
Florida Food Assistance Program
Better known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, this program is run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Nutrition Service. It is designed to assist families of low income with their food needs. Any potential recipient must be a Florida resident to qualify for these benefits. They must have an income under a certain level set by the department that is also influenced by the number of people in the household. The benefits are a set amount of money each month, which the recipient can spend with an electronic benefits card, or EBT card. The EBT card functions the same as a credit or debit card. The program determines which foods can be purchased with benefits, focusing on foods that will be part of a nutritious diet.
Florida Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
Also known as the WIC program, this system assists mothers and infants in their nutritional needs. There are a number of criteria that must be met to qualify. The benefits are available to women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or non-breastfeeding or suffer from postpartum. Mothers with infants and children under five years of age are also eligible. Potential recipients must be examined by a health professional, who will determine if they are at nutritional risk, making them eligible for benefits. A recipient's household income will also have to be under a predetermined amount.
Florida Emergency Food Assistance Program
This program helps those of low income find access to more nutritious food. The food items themselves are bought by the USDA through the program. The food is then allocated to various recipients. There are often non-profit organizations or other agencies which distribute food to those in need, including food banks and soup kitchens. Individual households can also qualify to receive some of these food items if they meet the income requirements.
Florida Child and Adult Care Food Program
The CACFP is designed to benefit those who live in group homes or care institutions. These include day care centers, family care homes and institutions which care for older or disabled adults. In Florida, the program is administered by the Bureau of Child Care Food Programs. The program allows participants to receive free or reduced-price meals at qualifying homes or care centers. Eligibility is determined by claimants’ income levels. Those with an income below 130 percent of the poverty rate can receive meals for free, while those whose income goes up to 185 percent of poverty level can receive meals at a cut price.
Florida Food Assistance for Children
There are several food assistance programs available in Florida specifically for the benefit of children. As well as the CACFP, Florida's Bureau of Child Care Food Program runs the Homeless Children Nutrition Program, which reimburses care centers for the money spent on food for eligible children. They also run the Afterschool Meals Program, which reimburses schools in low-income areas for the money spent on food for afterschool programs. In addition to these programs, there are national food assistance programs that are also available in Florida. These include the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, which provide meals to schools. Schools in low-income areas are given extra assistance, allowing them to offer the meals at a lower price or for free. The Summer Food Program is also available at schools and other sites across Florida. Meals are provided to children for no cost to avoid any nutritional risk over the summer when they do not have access to school meals.