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Learn About the Food Stamps Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamps program, helps many low-income U.S. households afford nutritious foods. People often have to spend a lot of their money on food. This can be a challenge for families with low incomes. The SNAP program provides some helpful relief for families who are eligible. If you qualify for food stamps, you will receive funds each month to spend on food.

To learn more about how the program may help you, keep reading. The sections below explain the requirements for the program, how to apply for food stamps and other important parts of the program.

Learn About SNAP Program Requirements

Not everyone who applies for food stamps can get them. You will have to meet certain requirements to get approved and use SNAP benefits to buy food. Here are some of the most important requirements you will need to meet:

  • Citizenship or legal presence requirement
  • Income limit
  • Resource limit
  • Work requirement

Citizenship or Legal Presence Requirement

You will need to be a U.S. citizen or a legally present non-citizen to qualify for benefits. If you are not a citizen, you will need to meet one of these additional requirements:

  • You are a child younger than 18 years old.
  • You are currently receiving benefits for a disability.
  • You have lived in the U.S. for five years or longer.

Income Limit

Another important rule is the SNAP income guidelines. To get food stamps, your household cannot make more than a certain amount of money each month. “Household” refers to a group of people who lives together, buys food together and makes food together. The income for each person in your household will be combined.

The SNAP program has two ways of looking at your income: your net income and your gross income. Gross income means your total income. Net income means your income after deductions. For example, some states will deduct child support payments or other costs from your gross income to get your net income.

Usually, the program will require you to meet the gross income limit and the net income limit. But if someone in your household is considered disabled or elderly, you will just have to meet the net income requirement.

The food stamp income guidelines will depend on how many people are in your household. Here are the income limits for 2020. (Please note that these limits may change after Sept. 30, 2020. Also note that the limits are different in Hawaii and Alaska.)

Household Size Gross Monthly Income Net Monthly Income
1 $1,354 $1,041
2 $1,832 $1,410
3 $2,311 $1,778
4 $2,790 $2,146
5 $3,269 $2,515
6 $3,748 $2,883
7 $4,227 $3,251
8 $4,705 $3,620
Additional members + $479 each + $369 each

Resource Limit

The program will not only look at your income to determine your SNAP eligibility. It will also look at any money you have. If your household has more than $2,250 in cash or in a bank account, you will not be able to get benefits. There is an exception though. If you have a person in your household who is disabled or at least 60 years old, you can have up to $3,350.

The SNAP program will not count these as resources for anyone:

  • Most pension plans or retirement plans
  • Any resources of someone who gets Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Any resources of someone who gets Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • A home and the property the home is on

States may also count your car as a resource. But they will not count it in some cases. For example, they will not count the car as a resource if it is worth less than $1,500; if you use it to drive long distances for work; or if you use it to drive around a disabled person who is part of your household. There are additional rules that will keep your car from being counted as a resource. Check with your local SNAP office to learn more.

Work Requirement

Finally, you may have to meet a work requirement. You will have to meet the work requirement if you:

  • Are not disabled.
  • Are between 18 and 49 years old.
  • Do not have any dependent children.

So, if you are an able-bodied 18 to 49-year-old person without children, you will have to do certain things to keep getting food stamps for more than three months. You will have to spend at least 20 hours each week working or taking part in a work program. You are not allowed to quit a job or reduce your hours. You will also have to take a job if you get a job offer.

Learn About Food Stamps Benefits Amounts

The amount of SNAP benefits you get each month depends on your income and how many people are in your household. This amount is called an “allotment.” The SNAP program uses a calculation to determine how much you can get each month.

The program expects you to spend 30 percent of your income on food. The SNAP program will multiply your income by 0.3 to get a number. They will then take this number and subtract it from the maximum monthly allotment for your household size. Here are the maximum allotments:

People in Household Maximum Monthly Allotment
1 $194
2 $355
3 $509
4 $646
5 $768
6 $921
7 $1,018
8 $1,155

So, if you have a household with four people and $1,000 of income per month, you can multiply 1,000 times .3 and get 300. Since the monthly maximum allotment for a family of four is $646, you will subtract 300 from 646 and get $346. $346 is the amount of SNAP benefits you will get each month.

If your food stamps application is approved, the program will tell you how long you will continue to get SNAP benefits. When your time period is almost done, you can recertify to keep getting SNAP benefits.

What can I buy with SNAP benefits?

There are a lot of foods you can get with SNAP benefits. Here are just a few examples:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Dairy products
  • Non-alcoholic drinks

You can also use SNAP benefits to buy plants or seeds that make food for your family to eat.

You cannot use your benefits to buy certain products. Here are some examples of things you cannot buy with SNAP:

  • Alcohol or tobacco products
  • Hot or prepared food
  • Pet foods
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Cosmetics

Understanding the EBT Card

If you meet all food stamps qualifications, you will get an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. It works like a debit card. Each month, the card will automatically get loaded with your SNAP allotment. You can go to grocery stores, supermarkets, farmers markets and other places to buy food with your SNAP EBT card. After you make a purchase, the money will be subtracted from the current amount in your EBT account.

When you get your card, you will have to create a PIN number. When you buy food with your EBT card, you will have to enter the PIN at the register.

Keep in mind that you cannot use your EBT card to get food everywhere. Not all stores are approved to take benefits. You can use the SNAP Retailer Locator online to find stores that accept food stamps benefits.

Learn How to Apply for Food Stamps

You have different ways to apply for SNAP depending on where you live. You can usually apply for benefits in person at a SNAP office or through the mail. Some states allow you to apply for food stamps online. Many consider this to be the most convenient way to apply. Before applying, contact your local office to find out how you can sign up for food stamps.

After the program processes and approves your application, a representative will contact you to set up an interview. The purpose of the interview is to make sure you have food stamps eligibility. They may conduct the interview on the phone or in person, depending on your state’s policies. After the interview, you will get notified if your household is approved. You will also find out the amount of benefits you can get.

If your application for food stamps is denied and you disagree with the decision, you can request a hearing within 90 days. The SNAP office will review your application at the hearing.