SNAP Food Stamp Info
If you're struggling to provide adequate food for yourself and your family, you are not alone. Around 42 million Americans battle with hunger on a regular basis.
That number, sadly, also includes one out of every six American children.
Despite many federal programs and private organizations created to help end hunger, it persists even in a modern American society.
The federal government maintains an effective program to help families and individuals struggling with hunger: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This program commonly referred to as "food stamps," is one of the largest aid programs in the U.S. Over 45 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, and 76% of all benefits go to families with children.
If you need SNAP to help you feed your family, you're not alone.
If you are in need of food aid, SNAP is the first place you should look. You'll need to understand the eligibility requirements, the application process, and how to proceed if your application is rejected or your current enrollment is ending.
Your income level determines your eligibility for SNAP benefits, along with the number of individuals in your household and the average income in your state, county, or city. A "household" usually constitutes parents and their children but may include additional members if multiple individuals live under one roof AND prepare meals together. Households receiving assistance like Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income are usually exempt from the income eligibility requirements.
The application requires detailed income information for each household member. There is an income limit, but some income payments do not count towards eligibility. Earned income (such as a payroll check) and unearned income (such as cash assistance, social security, unemployment and child support) will count toward total income. Income must meet both gross (untaxed) and net (taxed) income requirements.
Certain income deductions are allowed. These possible deductions include a 20% earned income deduction, child care expenses, child support payments, medical costs for the elderly and disabled, shelter costs like rent and utilities.
An applicant must have appropriate citizenship status to apply for SNAP benefits. Each member of your household must be either a U.S. citizen, a legal immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for at least five years, or a qualified alien. Children with American citizenship are eligible even if their parents are undocumented.
Benefits are only available to people with limited assets. Eligibility rules require that you have assets below $2,250 for a household and $3,250 for a disabled or elderly individual. An "asset" is anything that an individual can sell or use to purchase food for a household. Homes, primary automobiles, and most personal belongings are not usually considered assets. Cash on hand or in the bank IS usually considered an asset. Retirement benefits, such as a pension, are not considered assets.
The United States Department of Agriculture provides a free screening tool to help determine SNAP benefit eligibility. The tool is designed to allow you to punch in your assets and income and calculate your eligibility. Before getting started with the tool, you will want to gather your household information. This information may vary from state to state but includes the number of people in your household, household financials, income details, childcare costs, government benefits you're receiving, and household medical information.
Navigating the Application Process
The application process may appear daunting, but food security for yourself and your family is worth the time and effort. You'll need to fill the application out correctly and submit all the necessary application documents and supporting materials. If all of your paperwork is in order, you will receive an interview schedule. At the interview, you will have to support your application documents and answer any questions your state office may have. Then all you have to do is wait to learn if you've qualified.
All applications are processed within 30 days, with benefits dated to the date your application was submitted.
During the application process, you may also need to:
Contact your local SNAP office.
Gather your household financial information, your government benefit history, your medical information and all supporting material and documentation your state requires.
Submit your application online, return it in person, or mail it in. Applications presented in person are often processed sooner.
Provide the necessary information during an interview. You will need: proof of identity, proof of residence, Social Security numbers of everyone on your application, proof of income, name, age, and relationship of all household members, proof of immigration status for all non-citizens, proof of child support payments (if applicable), proof of medical expenses for those over 60 or older, and proof of childcare expenses (if applicable).
If your application is denied, you can apply again or request a review of your case. You have a right to have your application reviewed by a fair hearing official. You may also follow this process if you believe the amount of assistance you've received is too low.
The EBT Card
Approved families receive Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. These cards can be used to purchase food as well as to receive cash benefits. Food benefits can be used only to buy food and non-alcoholic drinks.
What Can You Get with an EBT Card?
You may purchase groceries at participating stores with your EBT card. Foods you can buy include cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products.
You cannot use your EBT benefits to purchase diapers, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets and other items related to gambling. For a full list of approved foods and guidelines, refer to the SNAP Benefits Page.
Most grocery stores and many convenience stores in the US accept. However, you can use the USDA's Retail Locator to determine which stores near you accept the card.
The EBT has a magnetic strip that you simply run through the electronic reader, as with an ATM or Credit Card. A recipient enters a PIN to complete the transaction. It is illegal for anyone to charge sales tax, surcharges or processing fees from an EBT account. If any of you have been a victim of illicit surcharging, please report it to your local SNAP or TANF office.
Reapply or Renew Benefits
Reapplying for SNAP can be much more complicated than the original application process if you don't understand the requirements and the steps to follow. You may have to reapply if you are not approved, or if your certification period ends.
To reapply for SNAP, do the following:
Contact your local office
Request an explanation (if your application was rejected)
If you simply need to renew your certification, ask about the renewal process
The SNAP certification period usually lasts one year. You should be sure to complete your re-application paperwork early, so there is no gap in your benefits. The local office will mail the renewal form to you. If you don't receive your paperwork at least a few weeks before your certification period is over, please call your local office.
Remember that SNAP is an important program that exists to aid you and your family. There is no shame in receiving benefits. Please do not hesitate to contact your local office for more information.
Here are links to the housing assistance programs discussed in this article.
Food and Nutrition Assistance Home Page
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Local SNAP Office Locator
SNAP Benefits Page
USDA's Retail Locator