As the economy weakens, states and the federal government are trying to help more people qualify for food stamps.
Since Oct. 1, new federal rules make it easier for households with income from combat pay, retirement accounts or education savings to be eligible. The rules are part of the 2008 Farm Bill, which changed the name of the food stamp program to SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
"This is a nutrition program, not a welfare program," says Jean Daniel, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), noting that half the 29 million Americans who receive aid are children. SNAP serves one of every five of the nation's kids, who are also eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
Some states are going further to expand eligibility. Last month, California enacted a bill that will allow low-income people to keep some savings and still qualify for food aid. At least four other states — Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont — similarly eased the asset test this year.
"People won't have to sink to ground zero to get help," says Paul Fraunholtz, a deputy director in Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services.