Applying for and Using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

How To Get And Use Your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits

( – Unfortunately, the rising cost of groceries is making it more difficult for households, especially low-income households, to afford groceries and provide healthy, balanced meals. However, the government recognizes that sometimes people need a little assistance. There are a variety of programs available to help families fight food insecurity and feed their families a healthy diet. The most extensive federal program that offers nutrition assistance is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly referred to as food stamps, is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The SNAP program is designed to provide low-income individuals or families with funds to buy eligible food items at authorized food retailers. The funds are provided on an Electronics Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that recipients can use, like a debit card. The amount of SNAP benefits received will be based on factors such as income and family size.

Who is Eligible for SNAP?

Anyone can potentially qualify for SNAP benefits. It is available to individuals, families, individuals living with disabilities, seniors, the employed or unemployed, or anyone else who meets all eligibility criteria.

Although SNAP is a federal program, it is managed at the state level, so requirements do vary by state. In general, however, applicants must meet established eligibility requirements. At a minimum, applicants should expect to verify the following types of information:

  • Residency: applicants live in the state where they apply for benefits
  • Income: Applicants must meet gross income and net income limits – determined in part by household size, though households with individuals over the age of 60 may have different income limits
  • Resources: applicants may not have more than the current maximum in countable resources (such as cash/money in a bank account)
  • Work: Applicants must be working 30+ hours per week or meet other work requirements established by the program

In some cases, households may be considered “categorically eligible” for SNAP. This may happen when the household receives other means-tested assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

How to Apply for SNAP?

Because eligibility for SNAP is determined at the state level, interested individuals must apply through their local SNAP office.

Every state will have its own application form and can help applicants understand eligibility requirements and the application process. If their form is not online, contact the office directly for more information.

What Groceries Can Be Purchased With SNAP?

SNAP is designed to purchase food for human consumption. Therefore, recipients can only use their benefits for specific types of eligible food items.

Eligible Items

The types of food items that can be purchased with SNAP benefits include:

  • fruits and vegetables (buying seasonal produce stretches SNAP dollars)
  • meat, fish and/or poultry
  • eggs
  • dairy products – milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
  • bread, cereal, grains, rice
  • beans and legumes
  • snacks
  • beverages
  • seeds and/or plants to grow food

Ineligible Items

Items that cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits include:

  • alcohol or tobacco products
  • live animals (with the exception of shellfish or fish removed from water or animals that have been slaughtered before pick-up)
  • Foods that are hot at the point of sale
  • non-food grocery items (pet food, cleaning supplies, hygiene or toiletry items)
  • baby formula or diapers
  • Vitamins, supplements, or medication

It can be highly stressful and overwhelming to face financial insecurity. Therefore, utilizing SNAP benefits to maximize the household budget is a wise decision. Programs like SNAP exist to help individuals and families stretch their budgets, feed their families, and work towards financial stability.

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