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Do I Qualify for Food Stamps?
Do I Qualify for Food Stamps?
Food stamps, which refers to the benefits available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), is a federal social welfare program that provides needy citizens with nutritional support. The food stamp program dispenses vouchers loaded onto an Electronic Benefits Transfer (or EBT) card, which works just like a traditional debit card. Participants use the card to purchase certain food items, such as milk, cereal and bread, to help feed their families.
Over 30 million people currently participate in SNAP, and many more families that aren’t participating also qualify for food stamps. In fact, an estimated 10 million households qualify for food stamps and don’t even realize it!
To see if you and your family qualify for food stamps, review the eligibility requirements below. If you meet the criteria, you can apply for food stamps through your state SNAP agency or local welfare agency.
To qualify for food stamps, you and members of your household must meet the basic requirements of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These requirements are the same regardless of where you live. You, your family and everyone in your household who wishes to apply for food stamps must:
- Be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or qualified U.S. alien
- Have a valid Social Security number
In addition, you (or if someone other than you is applying as head-of-household, the applicant) must be at least 18 years of age or older at the time you submit your application for food stamps. While children under the age of 18 qualify for food stamps, they cannot apply for food stamps themselves; a parent or guardian must do so on their behalf.
Exceptions to Basic Requirements
Some individuals and families who are not U.S. citizens may also qualify for food stamps. This includes:
- Legal immigrants under the age of 18
- Disabled or legally blind immigrants already collection disability benefits
- Permanent residents in active duty of the U.S. military and their families
- Cuban and Haitian refugees
- Refugees and those seeking asylum
- Individuals born on or before August 22, 1931 and who have been legally residing within the country since at least August 22, 1996
Your income eligibility for food stamps is based on two calculations: gross and net income. This includes not only your income, but also the income of all other members of your household over the age of 18. For example, if four adults live in your home, you would need to calculate all of their income to determine your household’s gross and net income.
You can also take certain deductions from your net income to reduce your gross income, which is the amount on which your food stamp eligibility is based. You can take these deductions if you own or lease your home, pay your own utilities separate from your rent/mortgage and have a landline (not cellular) telephone bill. Deductions are percentage-based, determined by your income, living expenses and other personal factors.
Your household generally qualifies for food stamps when your gross income is 100-165% of the poverty level. This means that your income can exceed the current poverty level by up to 65% and you still qualify for food stamps. To determine whether you meet the income guidelines, review the federal poverty level guidelines. Locate the income limits for your family size, counting all adults and children in your household. If your household income is within 165% of the federal poverty guidelines, you may qualify for food stamps.
As a general guideline, households with three or more people with less than $2,000 a month in income qualify for food stamps. The income cap may be slightly higher if you live in Hawaii or Alaska.
In addition to the income requirements, you also must pass the “resources test” to qualify for food stamps. Resources are separate from your income, but can be cash benefits you receive from other social welfare programs, money in a checking or savings account (besides your paycheck), investments and other available assets. To qualify for food stamps, your entire household cannot have more than $2,000 in available resources. For households that include a person who is 60 years of age or older, or an individual who is disabled and receiving Social Security Disability benefits, the resource limit increases to $3,000 total.
Assets that count towards your overall resource limit includes:
- Real estate you own (i.e., a house you rent out, investment properties)
- Undeveloped land you own
- Vehicles you own or lease for personal/family purposes (besides your primary vehicle)
- Vehicles you own or lease for business/work-related purposes
- Alimony payments
- Checking/savings accounts and other bank accounts
- Interest earned on bank accounts you own
- Investments and dividends
- Inheritance money
- Life insurance proceeds
- Savings or investment bonds
- Casino/gambling profits
- Financial support you receive from relatives or friends
- Cash gifts
Certain assets are exempt from your overall resource limit, even if they might otherwise according to the list above. This includes:
- Your primary residence and the land it is on, if you own it
- Your primary vehicle, if you use it for personal/family purposes
- Child support payments
Certain social welfare benefits also do not count towards your total resource limit for food stamp purposes. This includes:
- Social Security Disability (SSDI)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
If anyone in your household receives benefits from any of the above programs, do not include these benefits when you calculate your resources for food stamp purposes.
Note for TANF recipients: If you qualify for or are currently receiving TANF benefits from your state, you may already qualify for food stamps -- even if you do not qualify for food stamps based on these requirements. Many states have since swapped SNAP’s food stamp requirements with TANF’s eligibility requirements for cross-eligibility purposes. If you already receive TANF, ask your caseworker about qualifying for food stamps. You may not even have to complete an application to get started.
Food Stamp Eligibility Calculators
For a quick and easy way to determine whether you qualify for food stamps, you can screen your entire household using a food stamp eligibility calculator. You will need to know how many people are in your household, your entire household’s current monthly income and your total resources to use the food stamp eligibility calculators.
You do not need to provide any personal information to use these calculators. The following links are completely anonymous, so no one will ever know you used them. Likewise, using these calculators will not submit any information to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. You will need to complete a formal application with your state SNAP office to apply for the food stamps program.
Note: these food stamp calculators only provide an estimate of how much you could receive in food stamp benefits. This is not a guaranteed amount. Even if you use true calculations instead of estimates, your food stamp benefits could be higher or lower, depending on your state’s specific SNAP guidelines.