What Is SNAP?

Applying for SNAP can help low-income households access healthy food. Learn how to apply, understand eligibility, and find authorized retailers for SNAP benefits.
Published on
July 1, 2024
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Providing care for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it can also strain your household finances. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is a federal program that helps low-income households put healthy food on the table. How can you apply for SNAP benefits on behalf of your loved one?

What is the SNAP program?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides financial assistance to low-income individuals and families to purchase food, promote nutrition, and reduce food insecurity. Benefits are distributed via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which can be used at authorized retailers. Eligibility and benefit amounts are determined based on income, household size, and other factors.

History of SNAP

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), originally known as the Food Stamp Program, was established in 1939 to assist low-income Americans during the Great Depression. It was a temporary program that ended in 1943. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy initiated a pilot food stamp program, which expanded nationally with the Food Stamp Act of 1964 under President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his War on Poverty. The program underwent several reforms, including introducing electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in the 1990s to replace paper coupons. In 2008, the program was renamed SNAP, reflecting a broader focus on nutritional assistance and healthy food access.

Primary purpose of SNAP

SNAP's primary purpose is to alleviate food insecurity among low-income households. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), administers the program. SNAP benefits provide families with a monthly allocation to purchase many eligible foods at authorized grocery stores and retailers.

Eligibility requirements

Eligibility for SNAP benefits is determined by a set of criteria established by the federal government, with some flexibility granted to individual states. Here's a closer look at the key factors that determine whether you or your care recipient can participate in the program:

Household size and composition

When determining eligibility and benefit amount, SNAP considers everyone in your household, including care recipients, children, and non-blood relatives sharing expenses. This ensures the program supports a diverse range of households, including those with children and persons with disabilities. Larger households may qualify for higher benefits, and certain medical expenses can be deducted, potentially increasing your benefit allotment. Federal poverty guidelines determine eligibility based on household size and income, allowing millions to access nutritious food.

Income limits

Monthly income is a key factor in SNAP eligibility. The USDA sets national income limits based on household size, adjusting them periodically for cost-of-living changes and economic conditions. This ensures the program effectively supports food-insecure households, particularly families and disabled individuals with children. While income tests are conducted, some sources like Social Security may not be fully counted.

Net income eligibility

Beyond income thresholds (based on federal poverty guidelines), net income is also assessed for SNAP. This considers allowable deductions like rent, utilities, child care, and some medical expenses for families with children, households with disabled persons, or caregivers facing high costs.

Lowering your net income through deductions can increase your chances of receiving SNAP benefits or a higher monthly allotment to purchase a healthy diet via an electronic card.

Residency

You and your care recipient must be residents of the state where you apply for SNAP benefits. SNAP eligibility considers citizenship (variations by state), with U.S. citizens and some legal immigrants qualifying. 

Program policies set by the federal government determine monthly allotment levels for eligible participants, with higher benefits often offered to households with children facing financial hardship. These emergency allotments can provide temporary stability during economic downturns.

Important considerations

The USDA will guide you through verifying household size and income information to determine eligibility. A streamlined application process may be available for elderly individuals or those with disabilities.

Remember, SNAP can significantly improve food intake patterns and access to adequate food. This federal program, often called food coupons, can help combat food insecurity, especially for those facing rising food prices or with a history of food insecurity.

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How to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The SNAP application process can be straightforward if you follow these steps:

  1. Gather required documents:
    • Proof of income for all household members (pay stubs, unemployment benefits, etc.)
    • Proof of residency (utility bill, lease agreement).
    • Social Security numbers for everyone in the household.
    • Identification documents (driver’s license, state ID, birth certificate).
  2. Complete the application:
    • Online: Visit your state’s SNAP website or https://www.usa.gov/food-stamps to apply online.
    • In person: Visit your local SNAP office to pick up a paper application.
    • By phone: Some states allow you to apply over the phone. Contact your local SNAP office to check availability.
  3. Submit the application:
    • Online: Submit your application through the state’s SNAP website.
    • In person: Take your completed paper application and required documents to your local SNAP office.
    • By mail: Mail your completed application and required documents to your local SNAP office.
    • By fax: Fax your application and documents to your local SNAP office, if available.
  4. Interview (occasionally):
    • After submitting your application, you may be required to complete an interview, either over the phone or in person, to verify the information provided.
  5. Determination of eligibility:
    • Your local SNAP office will review your application and documents. You will be notified within a specific timeframe (usually 30 days) about the status of your application.
    • If approved, you will receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which will be loaded with your monthly benefits.
  6. Recertification:
    • Periodically, you will need to recertify your eligibility by submitting updated information and documents.

We recommend you contact your local SNAP office or visit the official SNAP website for detailed guidance and resources.

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Understanding your benefits

The amount of SNAP benefits a household receives is based on household size and income. The USDA establishes national maximum benefit levels that are adjusted periodically. Allowable deductions for expenses like rent and utilities can increase the net income used to calculate SNAP benefits, potentially leading to a higher benefit allotment.

What you can buy with SNAP

With SNAP benefits, you can purchase all sorts of food items to help ensure a balanced diet. Eligible items include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Breads and cereals
  • Snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Seeds and plants that produce food for the household to eat

However, SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy non-food items, alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, medicines, hot foods, or foods prepared for immediate consumption. The goal is to support the purchase of nutritious foods that contribute to a healthy diet for you and your household.

Many SNAP recipients utilize resources available through the FNS, such as MyPlate resources and educational materials, to make informed decisions and stretch their food budget further.

Finding healthy food options and retailers

Finding healthy food options and retailers is essential for maximizing the SNAP program's benefits. Many grocery stores, supermarkets, and even some farmers' markets accept SNAP benefits.

You can find a list of authorized retailers in your area by visiting the SNAP website or using their retailer locator tool. Additionally, some communities offer food distribution programs and banks that supplement your SNAP benefits with fresh produce, dairy, and other healthy food options. These programs often work with local organizations and farms to support food-insecure households. Utilizing these resources can help ensure that you and your family have access to a balanced and healthy diet.

The impact of SNAP: Fighting hunger

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a crucial defense against a pervasive social issue: food insecurity. Millions of Americans struggle to afford enough nutritious food for themselves and their families. Through SNAP, the government provides a monthly benefit allotment as a lifeline for these individuals and households.

Studies consistently showcase the program's effectiveness in supporting low-income populations. SNAP benefits, delivered electronically through an EBT card (similar to a debit card), empower eligible individuals and family caregivers to purchase nutritious food items at authorized retail food stores.

Beyond its immediate impact on food access, SNAP offers a range of other benefits. The program helps to alleviate financial strain on low-income households, allowing them to allocate more of their limited household resources towards other essential needs like housing and healthcare.

Child support payments received on behalf of a minor child may not be counted as income when determining eligibility. Additionally, some states have established resource limits, which set a maximum value for assets an eligible household can possess.

A note from Givers

Caring for a loved one can be financially challenging, especially when it comes to ensuring they have access to adequate food. The good news is that SNAP, the United States' largest food assistance program, can help.

SNAP combats food insecurity for millions of households, including those with disabled members. Rising food prices and a history of food insecurity shouldn't be barriers. Contact your local SNAP agency today. They're there to answer questions and guide you through getting the food coupons your loved one deserves.

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