The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a government program that provides monthly food benefits to eligible beneficiaries. SNAP is sometimes referred to as food stamps, although the official name of the program was changed from the Food Stamp program in 2008.
Participants in the program can use their food assistance in order to ensure that their household has enough nutritious food for everybody. Eligibility and benefits for SNAP are determined based on several factors including income- and work-related requirements.
SNAP benefits can be used to purchase most food items, but there are certain restrictions in place. For example, certain products are not considered food items and cannot be purchased using SNAP. Additionally, SNAP is not accepted everywhere, so it is important to check with retailers in advance. If you are interested, read more about the requirements to participate in SNAP, the benefits of the program and more.
Overview of Food Stamps
To apply for SNAP, you must visit your local SNAP office to request an application form. Depending on your state, you may also be able to apply for food stamps online, by fax or by mail. If you would like to apply by mail, you will need to contact your local office and have your office mail you an application form.
In order to qualify for SNAP benefits, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen or a qualified non-citizen. Additionally, applicants are required to meet state-specific income and resource-related qualifications.
The income limits for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program are typically determined based on an applicant’s household size. A larger income limit will be allowed for larger households. A family’s household size is also a major factor in determining how much nutrition assistance they can receive each month.
In most cases, a household must meet both gross and net income requirements. Gross income is determined by a household’s income before taxes or applicable deductions while net income refers to the household’s income following applicable deductions. Certain households, such as those with at least one qualifying senior citizen, are only required to meet gross income limits.
While determining an individual or household’s gross income, the SNAP program will typically allow a deduction based on the household’s size and the cost of shelter. This allowance is used to offset the high cost of rent, mortgage payments and utility bills that can take up most of a family’s monthly income.
Applicants who are in need of nutritional assistance are encouraged to apply to see if they are eligible for SNAP benefits.
In addition to income requirements, SNAP assistance also has work-related eligibility criteria. For instance, SNAP participants are required to either work or participate in a work program for a minimum of 20 hours each week.
Beneficiaries must adhere to these guidelines in order to receive food assistance for more than three months within a 36-month period. However, special groups such as children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with disabilities are exempt from this work requirement.
Infographic: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Learn About SNAP Benefits
There are certain rules and guidelines in place that restrict what beneficiaries can purchase using their SNAP benefits. Some items that are qualified to be purchased using food assistance benefits from SNAP include:
- Dairy products.
- Meat, poultry and fish.
- Frozen, fresh or canned fruits and vegetables.
- Cereals, breads and grains.
- Snack items.
- Seeds and plants that will produce food in the future.
In order to prevent abuse of SNAP assistance, benefits may not be used to purchase any of the following items:
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco.
- Live animals (with an exception for shellfish, fish removed from water and animals that were slaughtered prior to being purchased in a store).
- Prepared foods that are intended to be consumed immediately.
- Hot foods.
- Vitamins, minerals and supplements (or any item with a Supplement Facts label instead of a Nutrition Facts label).
- Nonfood times such as:
- Cleaning supplies
- Paper products
- Household supplies
- Pet foods
- Hygiene items
After being approved for SNAP benefits, participants will typically receive their benefits within 30 days of their initial application date. However, in emergency situations where the applicant has very low or no income, they may qualify for expedited benefits within seven days of the original application date.
Benefits from SNAP are now distributed through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, instead of using food stamps.
An EBT card can be used similarly to a debit card, except they are only accepted at certain locations. Generally, most grocery stores and supermarkets will accept payments with EBT cards. In some states, the benefits of SNAP can also be used to purchase groceries at a local farmer’s market.
About Additional Government Grants
In an effort to offer assistance to low-income citizens and households, federal funds are used to subsidize government grants towards helpful community organizations and programs. Government grants are used to fund SNAP and a number of other assistance programs that are operated on a state level.
There are a number of government assistance programs that can provide aid to households by helping them with the cost of monthly expenses such as food, shelter, utility bills, medical care and more. Some of the most popular state and federal assistance programs, other than SNAP, include:
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
- The Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly referred to as Section 8 housing).
- Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans.
Learn About Affordable Health Insurance
Families that have limited income may also be interested in learning about cheap health insurance options that may be available. Some of the most popular sources of affordable health insurance comes from government programs like Medicaid and Medicare. Some private health insurance options may also be affordable, although cheap health insurance can also come with limited coverage.
Medicaid is a government health insurance programs that aims to provide medical coverage for low-income Americans.
Eligibility for Medicaid is usually determined based on income and financial assets. Medicare, on the other hand, insures qualified senior citizens and people with disabilities. In some cases, it is possible for applicants to be eligible and receive coverage from both Medicare and Medicaid.
If you do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, you can obtain affordable health insurance through the healthcare marketplace. The marketplace, available through healthcare.gov, will provide you with a list of health insurance policies that are available in your area. The monthly premium that you can expect to pay is determined by the policy and your family’s income. If you have a low or moderate income, you will likely automatically qualify for income-related tax credits that reduce the amount you will be expected to pay for your insurance.
When selecting an insurance policy from the marketplace, it is essential that you review several key points of the policy, including covered services, medications and physicians as well as other costs such as copayments, coinsurance, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. In doing so, you can find a policy that meets your needs and your budget.
- SNAP Prescreening Eligibility
- State WIC Contacts
- National School Lunch Program
- Child Nutrition Programs
- Health Insurance Marketplace
- National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Affordable Childcare & After school programs
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- Low Income Housing
- Find Local Food Pantry
Find Out About Discounted Services Available to You
There are a few other ways to save money on monthly expenses such as choosing cheap cable and internet options.
There are several different providers that offer discounted prices for low-income households for cable and access to the internet. Some homeowners have opted to cancel their cable subscription and pay for a more affordable streaming service in order to watch their favorite TV shows and movies.