Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program (FSP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides crucial support to needy households and to those making the transition from welfare to work.
What is SNAP?
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAP provides low-income households with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card (similar to an ATM card) that clients can use like cash at participating grocery stores and commissaries. SNAP clients can buy all foods intended to be eaten at home. Some items, such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, foods hot at the point of sale, non-food items, vitamins or medicines, and pet foods cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits.
Although the federal program changed its name from the FSP to SNAP on October 1, 2008, states were encouraged, but not required, to change their program name to SNAP. States are still able to rename their programs independent of the program's federal name. Some states have already changed the names of their programs, while others use different names for the program. The USDA provides a listing of the names of each state's program, as well as the official state name for the EBT card, on the SNAP State Name Change Tracking Chart.
Who is eligible for benefits under SNAP?
To be eligible for the SNAP, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a citizenship or legal alien. You must be a United States citizen or, in some cases, a legal alien admitted for permanent residency. Legal immigrants are those that have lived in the country for five years; are receiving disability-related assistance or benefits, regardless of entry date; or are children, regardless of entry date. Eligible household members can get SNAP benefits even if there are other members of the household that are not eligible. Non-citizens that are in the United States temporarily, such as students, are not eligible.
- Meet employment requirements. Generally, able-bodied adults between ages eighteen and fifty without dependents can get SNAP benefits only for three months in a thirty-six-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search. With some exceptions, able-bodied adults between ages sixteen and sixty must register for work, accept suitable employment, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred by the local office. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in disqualification from the SNAP.
- Resources. You may have $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account, or $3,250 in countable resources if at least one person in your household is age sixty or older, or is disabled. However, certain resources are not counted, such as a home and lot, the resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the resources of people who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and most retirement (pension) plans. The procedures for handling vehicles are determined at the state level. For more information concerning State specific vehicle policy, check with your state SNAP program.
- Income. You have to meet income tests unless all members in your household are receiving TANF, SSI, or in some places general assistance. Most households must meet both the gross and net income tests, but a household with an elderly person or a person who is receiving certain types of disability payments only has to meet the net income test. If your family lives on a military installation, your housing is not counted as income when computing eligibility. If your family receives basic allowance for housing (BAH), that is included as income when computing eligibility.
- Gross income. The gross monthly income of your household must be 130 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines. Gross income includes all cash payments to the household, with a few exceptions specified in the law or the program regulations.
- Net income. Net monthly income must be 100 percent or less of federal poverty guidelines. Net income is figured by adding all of a household's gross income, and then taking a number of approved deductions for childcare, some shelter costs, and other expenses.
SNAP is not available overseas, but the DoD program Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA) is available. The USDA SNAP Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool can assist you in determining whether you might be eligible for SNAP benefits.
How do I apply for benefits under SNAP?
To apply for benefits, contact your local SNAP office. You can find local offices and each state's application on the USDA's National SNAP Map or you can call your state's SNAP hotline number. Each state has its own application form. If your state's form is not on the Internet yet, contact your local SNAP office to request one.
Please note that SNAP is administered by the states. Therefore, if you are receiving SNAP benefits and will be relocating from one state to another, you will need to reapply for the benefit in the new location.
What is the amount of benefits I can receive under SNAP?
The amount of benefits your household receives is called an allotment. Generally, the monthly allotments available through the program change each year and are based on the number of individuals living in your household and your monthly income. To calculate your expected allotment, multiply the net monthly income of the household by 0.3 and subtract the result from the maximum allotment for a household of your size to find your allotment. (Your net income is multiplied by 0.3 because SNAP households are expected to spend about thirty percent of their resources on food.) The USDA provides a listing of maximum monthly allotments for various household sizes on its SNAP eligibility website.
More information on SNAP is available on the USDA SNAP website, your local SNAP offices, or through your state's SNAP hotline number.