Understanding Food Stamps
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, was first considered by congress to make into a permanent program in 1964 at President Jonson’s request. Prior to legislation, the SNAP food stamps program had undergone numerous studies, reports and legislative proposals. The program has continued to undergo numerous changes and amendments over the last several decades.
Today, SNAP benefits provide healthy and affordable nutrition options to millions of Americans and help raise low income households and families from poverty. The program offers eligible participants with funds that can be exchanged for approved food items at millions of grocery and retail locations throughout the county.
If you would like to apply for food stamps, then it is worth taking the time to review the program benefits, as well as the eligibility requirements that will determine whether you and your family qualify for assistance. In the sections below, you will not only learn more about the benefits and eligibility requirements of the program, but you will gain a better understanding of the program as a whole.
Learn About The Requirements of the SNAP Program
To participate in the SNAP program, you must meet eligibility requirements for program benefits. These qualifications ensure that the families and households who need it most will have access to benefits. SNAP eligibility requirements include income, work and citizenship related qualifications.
To receive food stamps, you must be a United States citizen or a qualifying non-citizen. Generally, non-citizens must have a lawful presence within the U.S. and meet one of the following criteria in order to qualify for benefits:
- Have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.
- Be receiving disability-related assistance benefits.
- Be children under the age of 18.
The SNAP program is an income based program where both benefit amounts and eligibility are determined by the income level of a household. A household generally refers to everyone who lives together, purchases food together and prepares meals together.
In most cases, households must meet both gross and net income restrictions in order to qualify for benefits. However, households that contain an elderly or disabled person will only be required to meet net income limits. Gross income refers to a household’s total income before any deductions have been made, while net income refers to the amount of income a household has left over after allowable deductions.
When determining food stamps eligibility and benefits, acceptable deductions and deduction amounts have some variance between states. For example, some states will allow a set amount for utility costs instead of actual costs. Shelter cost deductions can also vary between states, depending on whether or not a state chooses to set a pre-determined shelter cost deduction. Some states might also allow deductions beyond shelter costs, such as child support payments.
For 2019, SNAP food stamps income limits are as follows:
|Household Size||Gross Monthly Income||Net Monthly Income|
|Additional members||+ $468 each||+ $360 each|
In addition to monthly income limits, the SNAP program requires households to meet resource limits. For example, households may have up to $2,250 in countable resources and still qualify for benefits. Households that have at least one disabled or elderly person in a household may have up to $3,500 countable resources. Countable resources include, but are not limited to cash, money in a bank account and certain vehicles.
However, the following is not considered a countable resource and cannot be used to determine eligibility for SNAP:
- A home and lot.
- Resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Resources of people who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Most retirement and pension plans
Vehicles can be counted as a resource when determining eligibility for SNAP. However, licensed vehicles will not be counted if they are:
- Used for income-producing purposes.
- Needed for long distance travel for work.
- Used as a home.
- Needed to transport a physically disabled household member.
- Needed to carry most of a household’s fuel or water.
- Valued at less than $1,500
Finally, to obtain food stamps benefits, household members must meet work related eligibility requirements. Work requirements apply to all able bodied adults without dependents, that is, anyone who is between 18 and 49 years of age who does not have a dependent and is not disabled.
To obtain benefits, these individuals must work or participate in a work program for at least 20 hours per week. Additional requirements include:
- You must be registered for work.
- You cannot voluntarily quit your job or reduce your hours.
- You must take a job if it is offered.
- You may be required to participate in employment and training programs, depending on the state.
If you do not meet SNAP program work requirements, you will not be eligible to receive benefits for more than a three month period in any given 36 month period.
Learn About SNAP Benefit Amounts
The amount of food stamps that an eligible household receives each month is referred to as an allotment. SNAP beneficiaries are expected to spend around 30 percent of their own resources towards the cost of food. Therefore, when calculating benefit amounts, the program will multiply your household’s net income by 0.3 and subtract the result from the maximum allotment amount available for your household size.
The maximum amount of SNAP food stamps that a household may receive while participating in the program is:
|People in Household||Maximum Monthly Allotment|
* For each additional person within a household, add $144 to the maximum allotment amount.
If approved for SNAP benefits, you will be notified as to how long you will continue to receive benefits. While benefit lengths do vary by state, the majority of SNAP participants will receive benefits for a six-month period. When approaching the end of your benefit period, you will receive a notice for renewal. If you still qualify to receive benefits, your benefit period will be extended.
What can be purchased with SNAP benefits?
You may use your food stamps to purchase food items that your household can eat, such as:
- Breads and cereals
- Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen)
- Meats, fish and poultry
- Dairy products
- Soft drinks, snacks and cookies
You may only utilize your SNAP food benefits at retail locations that are approved for SNAP. Items that cannot be purchased using benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes and tobacco
- Nonfood items, including household goods, paper products and pet foods
- Vitamins and medicine
- Food that will be eaten in the store
- “Hot food” items
- Live animals
Understanding SNAP Food Stamp Distribution
An Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card is provided to households after having been approved for benefits. An EBT card works similarly to a debit card and can be used to purchase approved food items, up to the remaining balance on the card. Before using your card for the first time, you will need to set up a pin number. This pin number must be entered at a point of sale terminal in order for a transaction to be completed.
If purchasing non-food stamp approved items in your purchase, any approved item amount can be deducted from your EBT balance, thus eliminating the need of separate purchases.
Monthly benefit amounts are automatically added onto your card each month. The specific date of the month that you receive your benefits is generally pre-determined when your household is first approved for benefits. Benefit dates are typically determined by the primary applicant’s Social Security Number or the first letter of their last name. Each state is different, though most states distribute benefits within the first half of each month.
How to Apply for Food Stamps
Your local food stamp office can usually accept applications in person or by mail. You may also be able to call your local office to have an application mailed to you. You may even be able to apply for food stamps online, depending on your state. Where available, an online application is generally considered the most convenient application method because it can be completed on your own time and from the comfort of your own home. Whichever method you choose, be sure to contact your local SNAP office to see which application methods are available.
After submitting a food stamps application, you will be contacted by your local office either by phone or mail to complete an eligibility interview with a caseworker who has been assigned to your household. You must complete this interview in order to receive benefits, regardless of whether or not you are eligible. Interviews may take place by phone or at your local office, depending on your state’s regulations. After your interview has finished, you will receive a notice by mail informing you as to whether or not your household is eligible to receive benefits and, if eligible, your benefit amount.