The Emergency Food Assistance Program: Who Qualifies

Updated : August 4th, 2020

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), formerly known as the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program, is a federal program that provides free food assistance to low-income families. The program was established in 1983 and is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) at the federal level. The program aims at reducing hunger.

Here, let’s have a detailed look at the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

More about The Emergency Food Assistance Program

Through the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchases and makes nutritious and high-quality, USDA food available to state distributing agencies.

The amount of food the states receive will be based on the number of people with income below the state-defined poverty level and the number of unemployed persons. States will then distribute the food to agencies such as food banks. In turn, these entities will distribute the food to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other local agencies that provide food directly to those in need. 

The USDA foods can be used for household consumption as well as to serve meals in a congregate setting. TEFAP also provides states with funds to support the storage and distribution of USDA foods.

Who Qualifies For TEFAP?

Nonprofit private and public entities that distribute food for preparing meals to be served at congregate settings or household consumption can receive commodities under TEFAP. 

Households may also be eligible for TEFAP food but only for home consumption. To receive the food, they must meet certain eligibility requirements, as mentioned below.

1. Total income of the household must be below or at 130% of the poverty level for the number of people living in the family

2. The household should qualify for any of the below-listed programs:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Aid to Needy Disabled (AND)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid Eligible Foster Children

Note – The “income” above refers to your gross income before any expenses, deductions, etc. The gross income includes wages, salaries, unemployment compensation, Social Security, pensions, public assistance or welfare payments, etc. 

Recipients participating in a soup kitchen are not subjected to any test as it is assumed that those seeking a meal are needy.

Income Requirements 

Households should also meet income guidelines. The requirements may, however, vary from one state to another. For instance, the income eligibility in Michigan is as below.

Family Size Weekly  Monthly  Annual 
1 $490 $2,126  $25,520
2 $663 $2,873 $34,480
3 $835 $3,620 $43,440
4 $1,007 $4,366 $52,400
5 $1,180 $5,113  $61,360
6 $1,352 $5,860 $70,320
7 $1,524 $6,606 $79,280
8 $1,696 $7,353 $88,240
For each additional member add $172 $746 $8,960

In states like New York, anyone can qualify for TEFAP regardless of immigration status, income, etc. 

How To Apply For TEFAP? 

To apply for TEFAP, contact the state distribution agency in your state. You can find information about the agencies at

Note – When you collect the food, you are required to submit documents like a utility bill.

What Types Of Food Are Available?

Under TEFAP program, you can receive various types of food such as fruits, canned vegetables, pasta, beans, nonfat dry milk, rice, egg, and grain products. It may also include peanut butter, meat, and tuna. Usually, you can collect food any number of times, but the guidelines may vary with state. 

TEFAP Program During COVID-19

To make sure that more families have access to healthy food during the pandemic, states like Wisconsin increased the income limit to collect food through TEFAP program. In states like Pennsylvania, the unemployed, service workers, and hourly wages, employees can receive food from local food banks or food pantries.  

Final Words 

The Emergency Food Assistance Program provides nutritious USDA food to the needy and ensures they live a healthy life. The program does not discriminate based on color, race, gender, age, or disability. However, if you have been denied food due to the listed factors, you can write a letter to the USDA.  


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