Food Stamps: What You Need to Know


The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, helps provide food for low and no-income American families. Although it is a federal program, benefits are distributed by the states. Through this program, benefits are available using an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. EBT cards can be used like a debit card at most grocery stores.

SNAP benefits can only be used to buy foods like breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products. Plants and seeds that produce food can also be bought with SNAP benefits. Alcoholic beverages, hot foods and foods that can be eaten in the store are not eligible. Some restaurants accept SNAP benefits for low-cost meals from elderly, disabled and homeless people, however.

Only U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and certain qualified aliens can receive SNAP benefits. There are also a number of resource and income requirements. Those younger than 60 years old cannot have more than $2,000 in resources, and those older than 60 years old cannot have more than $3,000 in resources. Basically, any money you have in cash or bank accounts is considered resources. Those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance or Needy Families (TANF) benefits are excluded from resources requirements.

Income limits are determine by the size of the household and are revised yearly. Currently, if one person lives in the household, the gross monthly income cannot exceed $1,127. For two-person households, it’s $1,517. For three-person households, it’s $1,907 and so on. For more information on qualification limits visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNAP website. SNAP also offers an online Pre-Screening Tool that can help you determine if you are eligible for SNAP benefits.

To apply for SNAP benefits, you have to fill out an application at your local SNAP office. The USDA provides a national map to help you find your local SNAP office. The SNAP office can also send you an application if you call and ask for one. The application can be returned in person, by mail or by fax. In some states, you can also apply for SNAP benefits online.

In order to receive benefits, you will have to have an interview at your local SNAP office. You need to show identification and proof of income. You’ll also need to provide proof of your monthly expenses including child-care costs, mortgage or rent payments, utility costs and medical bills for those 60 and older. If your application is approved, you can receive SNAP benefits almost immediately, but benefits will be prorated for the first month.

The amount of monthly benefit is dependent on each household’s situation. SNAP uses the Thrifty Food Plan model to determine monthly allotments. The maximum allotment is diminished by the net income of the household. For example, the maximum allotment for a family of 5 is currently $698. If the household has net income of $200, the SNAP allotment would be $498.

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