Eligibility for Food Stamps or SNAP (Guide)
Last Updated on 11/16/19
What is SNAP or food stamps? How do I apply and what are the food stamps eligibility requirements? Is there a limit to how much money can I make and still receive benefits? How much in food stamps will I get if approved? How long can I stay on food stamps?
In this post, we will answer the above questions in detail and give you all the information you need to successfully apply for food stamps benefits.
This post on Food Stamps Eligibility will cover:
- What are food stamps?
- Who uses Food Stamps?
- Who Can Apply for Food Stamps?
- Food Stamps Eligibility
- How Much Will I Get in Food Stamps?
- Food Stamp Calculator
- What Can I Buy With Food Stamps or EBT?
- How Long Can You Stay on Food Stamps?
- How do I apply for Food Stamps?
- What Happens After I Apply?
- Food Stamps FAQs
Food Stamps, also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), is a federal nutrition program that helps people with low income buy healthy food.
SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food at grocery stores, convenience stores, and some farmers’ markets and co-op food programs.
The food stamps program is a nutrition program. It is not a welfare cash assistance program (which is called TANF). You do not have to be receiving TANF to get SNAP.
SNAP is a federal entitlement program. This means anyone who is eligible will receive benefits. You will not be taking away benefits from someone else if you apply.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees SNAP at the federal level.
The program is managed at the state level, usually by the state’s Department of Social Services or Health and Human Services.
Who uses Food Stamps?
People of all ages use food stamps, including families, people living alone, people living with roommates, and people who are homeless.
People who are working or have other regular income, such as Social Security or a pension, can often get SNAP.
You do not need to be receiving TANF (cash welfare) or be out of work in order to get it.
Food stamps eligibility is determined by a calculation that takes into consideration your family size, citizenship status, household income, and certain expenses.
Who Can Apply for Food Stamps?
Anyone on a low income can apply for food stamps as long as they meet program rules, including income and asset limits.
If you are a low-income household and answer yes to one or more of the following questions, you may be eligible for food stamps:
- Is anyone in the household 60 or older?
- Do members of your household receive TANF or SSI?
- Is anyone in the household under 19?
- Is anyone considered disabled under Food Stamp rules? (see FAQ below for definition)
- Are you a pregnant woman living alone?
- Are all household members US Citizens or legal non-Citizens?*
- Is the household homeless?
Food Stamps Eligibility
Here’s how to determine if you qualify for food stamps:
Follow the steps below to calculate your gross income, net income and see if you meet the asset requirements.
We have also provided an example below for you to follow in calculating how much in food stamps you are likely to receive based on your household income.
To be eligible for food stamps, a household’s income and resources must meet three tests:
Eligibility Test 1 – Gross monthly income
The first test you must meet in order to be eligible for SNAP benefits is the gross income test.
Gross income is a household’s income before any applicable deductions are applied.
Generally, this must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line.
For a family of three, the poverty line used to calculate SNAP benefits in the federal fiscal year 2020 is $1,778 a month.
Therefore, 130 percent of the poverty line for a three-person family is $2,311 a month, or about $27,700 a year.
The poverty level is higher for bigger families and lower for smaller families.
Eligibility Test 2 – Net monthly income
The second test is the net income test.
A household’s Net income, or income after deductions are applied, must be at or below the poverty line (100 percent of the poverty line).
See the food stamps income limit table below for a complete chart on gross and net income requirements based on the number of people in a household.
What is Considered Income for food stamps?
The following counts as income under food stamps:
Cash income from all sources, including earned income (before payroll taxes are deducted) and unearned income, such as cash assistance, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and child support.
Eligibility Test 3 – Assets
The final test you must meet is the Assets test.
Your household assets must fall below certain limits. Households without a member who is elderly or has a disability must have assets of $2,250.
However, households with an elderly or has a disabled person must have assets of $3,500 or less.
What are considered assets for food stamps?
Generally, resources that could be available to the household to purchase food, such as amounts in bank accounts, count as assets.
Items that are not accessible, such as the household’s home, personal property, and retirement savings, do not count. Most automobiles do not count
Note that states have the option to relax the asset limits, and many have done so.
Therefore, check with your state’s food stamps agency for details on what the asset requirements are for your state.
Food Stamps Income Limit Chart
Food Stamps Income Eligibility Limits – Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020
|Household Size||Gross monthly income
(130 percent of poverty)
|Net monthly income
(100 percent of poverty)
|Each additional member||+$479||+$369|
* Food stamps gross and net income limits are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.
What deductions are allowed for Net Income?
To calculate your household’s net income, you have to subtract allowable deductions from your household’s gross income.
The following deductions are allowed for SNAP:
- A 20-percent deduction from earned income.
- A standard deduction of $167 for household sizes of 1 to 3 people and $178 for a household size of 4 (higher for some larger households and for households in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam).
- A dependent care deduction for the out-of-pocket childcare or other dependent care expenses that are necessary for a household member to work or participate in education or training;
- Medical expenses for elderly or disabled members that are more than $35 for the month if they are not paid by insurance or someone else.
- In some states, a child support deduction for any legally obligated child support that a member of the household pays
- In some states, a standard shelter deduction for homeless households of $152.06.
- Excess shelter costs as described below.
Food Stamps Excess Shelter Costs Deduction
The shelter deduction is for shelter costs that are more than half of the household’s income after other deductions.
Allowable shelter costs include:
- Fuel to heat and cook with.
- The basic fee for one telephone.
- Rent or mortgage payments and interest.
- Taxes on the home.
Some States allow a set amount for utility costs instead of actual costs.
The amount of the shelter deduction is capped at (or limited to) $569 unless one person in the household is elderly or disabled.
The limit is higher in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam.
For a household with an elderly or disabled member, all shelter costs over half of the household’s income may be deducted.
How Much Food Stamps Will I Get?
The total amount of food stamps benefits your household gets each month is based on your income and number of people in your household.
The federal government expects SNAP households to spend about 30 percent of their own resources on food.
Therefore to determine how much in food stamps you will receive if you apply, you have to multiply your household’s net monthly income by 0.3.
After that, subtract the result from the maximum monthly allotment for your household size using the table below
Note: The total amount of SNAP benefits your household gets each month is called an allotment.
Food Stamps Maximum Monthly Allotment Based on Household Size
|People in Household||Maximum Monthly Allotment|
|Each additional person||+$146|
Note: The allotments described here are for households in the 48 contiguous States and the District of Columbia. The allotments are different in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Food Stamp Calculator
The example below is provided to help you calculate how much food stamps you are likely to receive based on your income, assets, allowable deductions and household size.
The example uses a family of 3.
Example: Calculating a Household’s Monthly SNAP Benefits
Consider a family of three with one full-time, minimum-wage worker, two children, dependent care costs of $77 a month, and shelter costs of $941 per month.
Here are the steps to calculate how much in food stamps this family will receive.
Step 1 — Gross Income:
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Full-time work at this level yields monthly earnings of $1,256.
Step 2 — Net Income for Shelter Deduction:
Begin with the gross monthly earnings of $1,256.
Subtract the standard deduction for a three-person household ($167), the earnings deduction (20 percent times $1,256, or $251), and the childcare deduction ($77). The result is $761 (Countable Income A).
Step 3 — Shelter Deduction:
Begin with the shelter costs of $941. Subtract half of Countable Income A (half of $761 rounds to $381) for a result of $560.
Step 4 — Net Income:
Subtract the shelter deduction ($560) from Countable Income A ($761) for a result of $201.
Step 5 — Family’s Expected Contribution Towards Food:
30 percent of the household’s net income ($201) is about $60.
Step 6 — SNAP Benefit: The maximum benefit in 2019 for a family of three is $509. The maximum benefit minus the household contribution ($509 minus $60) equals about $449.
The family’s monthly SNAP benefit is $449.
What Can I Buy With Food Stamps or EBT?
Once you are approved for food stamps, you will receive your benefits each month on a plastic card called an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card.
The food stamps program no longer issues paper coupons.
There is a list of food items you are allowed to buy with your EBT Card.
- meats, fish, poultry
- deli meats and steak
- dairy products
- seeds and plants that produce food for the household
- soft drinks
- snack crackers
- ice cream
- energy drinks (must have a nutrition label)
- live seafood, such as lobster, fish, and shellfish
- pumpkins (as long as they are edible)
- birthday cakes (the non-edible piece of the cake cannot exceed 50 percent)
- bakery items
Here’s what you CANNOT buy with your SNAP benefits:
- Alcoholic beverages
- tobacco products
- hot food (prepared for immediate consumption)
- Nonfood items
- pet foods
- paper products
- medicines and vitamins
- household supplies
- grooming items
How Long Can You Stay on Food Stamps?
There is no time limit for how long you can continue to receive food stamps. As long as you continue to meet the eligibility criteria, you can continue to receive benefits.
However, each state has recertification periods where your case will be reviewed to make sure you still meet the eligibility requirements.
Your caseworker will let you know your recertification period, which is typically every year or every two years, depending on your state.
Three-Month Time Limit for ABAWDs
Food Stamps rules require all recipients to meet work requirements unless they are exempt because of age or disability or another specific reason.
Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD), between the ages of 18 and 49, who are not disabled must meet special work requirements, in addition to the general work requirements, to maintain their eligibility for food stamps.
What is the ABAWD time limit?
ABAWDs can only get food stamps for 3 months in 3 years if they do not meet certain special work requirements. This is called the time limit.
To be eligible beyond the time limit, an ABAWD must meet one of the following requirements:
- Work at least 80 hours per month
- Participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 80 hours per month, or comply with a workfare program.
Workfare means that ABAWDs can do unpaid work through a special state-approved program.
For workfare, the amount of time worked depends on the amount of benefits received each month.
Another way one to fulfill the ABAWD work requirement is through a SNAP Employment and Training Program.
Exemptions from Time limit
The time limit does not apply to people who are unable to work due to physical or mental health reasons, pregnant, care for a child or incapacitated family member, or are exempt from the general work requirements.
How do I apply for Food Stamps?
You have to apply for food stamps in your state of residency. Here’s how.
Step 1 – First, find out if you are eligible.
Contact your states’ food stamps agency to find out if you are eligible. Click here to contact your state’s food stamps agency.
The following 42 states have online pre-screening tools that allow you to determine if you are eligible for benefits before you apply.
States with Food Stamps Eligibility Screening Tools
AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI
To find the pre-screening tool, simply visit your state’s food stamps page.
If you determine that you are eligible:
Step 2 – Apply for food stamps
Most states offer 4 different ways to apply for food stamps
Option 1 – Apply online
The following 46 states allow you to apply for food stamps online.
AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN (some counties), KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MO, MN, MT, MS, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI
To apply online, click here and locate your state and you will be provided a link to their food stamps application page.
Option 2 – Apply In Person
Visit your state’s food stamps office location near you. To find an office location, click here and locate your state for further information.
Option 3 – Apply By mail or fax
You can also apply for food stamps by downloading an application, and completing it, and returning it to your state’s food stamps agency.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have printable applications. To locate the application form for your state, click here and locate your state for further instructions.
Option 4 – Apply Over the Phone
Call your state’s food stamps hotline to start an application over the phone, or have an application sent to you through the mail.
To locate the phone number for your state’s food stamps hotline, click here and locate your state for further instructions.
What Happens After I Apply?
Here’s what happens after you apply for food stamps:
Participate in an interview
Once your application has been received, a caseworker will call you to conduct an interview over the phone (in some states, this may be in person).
Your caseworker is the person you will work with and send updates to until your application is complete.
You can submit verifications with your application or separately. Your caseworker will tell you the deadline for submitting the documents needed to process your application.
Here are possible documents you may have to submit:
- A document showing your name and address
- Social security numbers for all household members applying
- Proof of income for the previous four weeks
- For non-citizens: proof of legal non-citizen status.
- Child and adult care expenses
- Housing costs (rent or mortgage and utilities)
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses (if age 60 or over, or disabled)
- Child support payments being made to a child living outside of the household.
Receiving your benefits
Once all of the verifications have been received and the interview completed, your caseworker will determine your eligibility and send an approval or denial letter.
You may receive an EBT card in the mail right after you apply.
However, until your caseworker processes and approves your application, you will not have any benefits on your card.
Benefits are electronically transferred onto the card once the case is approved.
Click here for more information on what happens once you are approved.
Food Stamps FAQs
These are the most commonly asked questions about food stamps eligibility from our readers.
If you have a question that has not been answered or addressed in this post, you can ask us in the comments section below.
Is there any way I can get my SNAP benefits sooner than later?
If your household has little or no money and needs help right away, you may qualify for “expedited” SNAP.
If you do, you must receive your initial SNAP benefits within five days.
You will still have to complete the eligibility process and supply all the required documentation at a later date.
You can only receive emergency assistance if you qualify for expedited SNAP benefits. That means you or your family must:
- Have no more than $100 in earned/unearned income, cash, or bank account
- Expect to make less than $150 this month
- Rent/mortgage and utilities this month are higher than your monthly income
How do I check the status of my SNAP application?
The entire process for SNAP can take up to four weeks.
To see the latest updates on your SNAP application, you can call your local food stamps office or ask your caseworker.
What can I do if I disagree with the decision about my application?
You may request what is called a fair hearing process. You may request a hearing within 90 days of the date indicated on the written notice you received that explains the Department’s decision about your application.
Throughout this process, you may represent yourself, or have an attorney, relative, or friend represent you at your hearing.
To request a fair hearing, let the caseworker know who helped process your application or sent the notice to you.
Can college students get SNAP?
Most able-bodied students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled at least half-time in college or other institutions of higher education are not eligible for SNAP.
However, In some states students may be able to get SNAP, if otherwise eligible if they:
- Receive public assistance benefits under a Title IV-A program; or
- Take part in a state or federally-financed work-study program; or
- Work on average 20 hours per week; or
- Are a single parent enrolled full time and taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 12.
Students also may be able to get SNAP, if otherwise eligible,
- If they are taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 6, or;
- If they are taking care of a dependent household member age 6 through 11 and do not have adequate childcare to enable them to work a minimum of 20 hours per week, or;
- Take part in a state or federally-financed work-study program while attending school.
Students who are assigned to or placed in college or certain other schools as part of certain job or employment training programs may also be eligible for SNAP.
Who is Considered Disabled Under Food Stamps Rules?
A person is disabled for purposes of the food stamps program if he or she receives any of the following:
- Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)
- Federally or state-administered supplemental assistance based on disability
- Interim assistance pending SSI
- Disability-related medical assistance under Title 19
- Disability-based state general assistance
- Disability-based general assistance, or
- Certain other benefits based on disability.
Disabled individuals also include persons who receive an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974, or disabled veterans, disabled spouses of veterans or disabled children of veterans.
Current special rules for households with elderly and disabled individuals include:
- Separate household eligibility;
- More lenient tests for income, resources, and deductions;
- Longer certification periods; and
- Less-burdensome application procedures.
Recipients of SSI and TANF are considered categorically eligible for food stamps.
This means they are eligible for food stamps solely based on the fact that they receive benefits from another welfare program.
Categorically eligible persons are not subject to food stamp resource tests.
Can undocumented immigrants use SNAP?
No, Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive SNAP benefits on their behalf.
Documented immigrants can only receive SNAP benefits if they have resided within the United States for at least five years.
However, you may be eligible for SNAP as a non-citizen if your status falls under one of the following:
- Refugees, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, Asylees, Amerasian immigrants, individuals with deportation or removal withheld, Hmong or Highland Laotians, victims of human trafficking, parolees for at least one year, conditional entrants, North American Indians born in Canada and members of federally recognized tribes;
- Honorably discharged U.S. veteran, the spouse, and unmarried dependent children;
- Aliens on active duty in the U.S. military service, the spouse and unmarried dependent children;
- Aliens paroled into the U.S. for at least one year;
- LPR with certain disability benefits
- Certain battered immigrants and their children or parents; and
- LPR with 40 qualifying quarters
- Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) in the U.S. for 5 years
- LPR under age 18
I am undocumented, but my children are U.S. citizens. Can I apply for SNAP benefits?
If you do not have documented immigration status, you will not be able to apply for yourself, but you may apply for other eligible household members such as your children.
Children born in the U.S. and those with legal permanent resident status may receive benefits even if their parents do not have documentation.
Non-immigrants (those on student, visitor or diplomatic visas) are not eligible to receive SNAP benefits but may apply for other eligible household members.
Even if you do not meet the immigration status for SNAP, put your name on the application first if you are the head of the household and are applying for other eligible household members.
If I receive SNAP benefits on behalf of my children, will that affect me in residency application?
We hope this post on food stamps eligibility was helpful.
If your question was not answered and are still having trouble applying for food stamps, please let us know in the comments section below.