Food stamps can be a very helpful tool for low-income families that need assistance with buying groceries. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the program that administers the benefits to families in need. The purpose of the program is to provide nutrition benefits that supplement the grocery budget of low-income families so that they can afford to buy nutritious foods for their family.
To see if you qualify for SNAP food stamps, you must complete an application in the state you reside in. The program has specific eligibility requirements that must be met in order to obtain assistance, including set income limits.
In general, you will be notified about whether you meet the eligibility requirements and can receive benefits within approximately 30 days of submitting your application. You may even be eligible to receive your food stamps within seven days of submitting your application if have extremely low income. If you want to learn more information about the food stamp application, eligibility requirements and more, continue reading through the sections below.
How to Apply for Food Stamps
You must contact your state food stamp office in order to complete an application for benefits. Although the SNAP program is funded by the Federal government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), each state manages its own program.
This means that each state has its own food stamp application process that must be followed, so you must contact your agency to learn how you can apply. To contact the agency, visit your state SNAP office, visit their website, or contact them via phone.
Some states allow you to apply for food stamps online, while others require you to use in-person or by-mail options instead. Make sure you are completely familiar with the required application procedures before you begin.
Food Stamps Eligibility Requirements
One of the most important food stamps eligibility requirements considered by SNAP is your income level. Because the assistance is designed to help needy families afford to buy food, benefits are only provided to those who have an income below certain levels.
In most situations, your family must meet both the net and gross income limits set by the USDA for SNAP. Gross income is your household’s total income before taxes or other deductions are considered. Net income is gross income minus any deductions.
To meet the food stamp qualifications, you must have a gross monthly income that is at or below 130 percent of poverty, and a net monthly income that is at or below 100 percent of poverty, based on your household size.
The current SNAP eligibility limits for most states include that a family of four must have a gross monthly income of $2,720 or less, and a net monthly income of $2,092 or less. Keep in mind that the income limits in Alaska and Hawaii are higher.
Note: If your household includes an elderly or disabled person, you are only required to meet the net income limit to qualify.
Another factor that is considered when determining eligibility for food stamps is whether you are receiving benefits from other federal programs. For example, if all members of your family are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you may be automatically considered eligible.
Applicants must also meet the citizenship requirements for food stamps as well. To qualify for SNAP benefits, residents must be either a United States citizen or maintain a lawful presence in the U.S. Eligible non-citizens include:
- Those who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.
- Children younger than 18 years of age.
- Those who have received disability-related benefits or assistance.
Tips for Using Your Food Stamps
It’s important to understand how to use food stamps properly so that you can benefit from them the most. Understanding things like how to check your food stamp balance and what items you can buy with the stamps will help make using them much simpler.
- How do I receive my benefits?
If you are eligible, you will receive your benefits through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. This card acts like a debit card, and all benefits are automatically loaded to your account every month. This card can be used to buy groceries at authorized stores.
- What can I buy with EBT food stamps?
SNAP benefits can only be used on food for your household. The following items can be purchased with food stamps:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Dairy products
- Bread and other grain products
- Meat, fish and poultry
- Snack foods
- Seeds and plants that produce food for the household
You cannot purchase items such as alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, medicines, or nonfood items with SNAP. Also, benefits can not be used to purchase hot foods ready to be eaten in the store (like hot pizza or fried chicken).
One tip you may want to consider is to make a grocery list before you go to the store so that you know exactly what items your household needs before you start shopping. This can help you to ensure you get all of the foods you need. Also, planning out your meals ahead of time can help you to make the most of your benefits.
- Where can I use food stamps?
Only certain retailers authorize the use of a food stamp card to purchase items. Make sure you verify that you can use your stamps at that location before you start shopping. Most stores have stickers that signify whether they accept SNAP benefits or not. You can also ask a store associate for more information.
- How do I check my balance?
It’s important that you know what your food stamp balance is before going grocery shopping. Since benefits are provided on an EBT card, it can sometimes be confusing to know what is available.
One of the best ways to check your balance is to call the food stamp number listed on your card. Also, some states offer the ability to create an online account website that allows you to see information about your benefits, including your account balance.