How to Apply for Food Stamps

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, replaced the federal Food Stamps program. If you are approved for the program, you receive a monthly benefit that can be used to purchase foods approved by the program. The benefits are deposited into an account you can access using an Electronic Benefit Transfer card that looks and works like a debit card. Although each state administers SNAP locally, the application process is similar regardless of the state.


General Eligibility

You must be at least 18 years of age to apply for SNAP. The program is open to individuals and families that meet the program's income and asset limits. The household's gross income can't exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty level and the net income can't exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which varies based on household size. As of 2015, the gross income limit for a family of three is $2,144 a month and the net income is $1,650. You may be entitled to deductions that reduce your income. For example, if you work, 20 percent is deducted from your earned wages. Your countable assets can't exceed $2,250. If someone in your home is at least 60 years old or disabled, the asset limit is $3,250. Your primary home, vehicle, furniture, personal effects and most retirement plans are excluded. Some examples of countable assets include cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and vacation homes. The USDA Food and Nutrition Services website provides a pre-screening tool to help you determine your eligibility.


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Application Process

SNAP applications request information about everyone in your household. You'll need to include each person's name, Social Security number, date of birth and relationship to you. You'll also need to report all sources of income, both earned and unearned, for each person. Although certain assets are excluded, you still need to report any assets, such as real estate, vehicles, cash on hand, bank accounts and investment accounts. After submitting your application, a caseworker will contact you for an interview, either in person or over the phone. The purpose of the interview is to verify the information in your application and to address any problems or discrepancies. For example, the caseworker may ask how you pay your bills each month if you stated that you have no income on the application.


Required Documents

You generally need to submit documents to prove the identity and citizenship of each household member. For adults, a driver's license, state-issued identification card or U.S. passport satisfy the requirement. If you have minor children, you must submit copies of their birth certificates. Proof of income from all sources is required, such as pay stubs or Social Security benefit statements. You may also be asked to provide copies of your current household bills, including a copy of your lease and utility bills. Additional documentation may include immunization records, school records, and letters from family members or relatives paying your bills.


Online Applications

The majority of states provide an online application for SNAP benefits. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service provides links to each state's SNAP online application site. Before you can apply, you'll create an account using your name and Social Security number. You'll also select a username and password to login and complete your application. If you apply online, you can typically check the status of your application online.

Paper Applications

Paper applications are often available on the state's SNAP website for you to download and print. You may also pick up an application or apply in person at your local SNAP office. If you don't have transportation, you can call a SNAP office to request an application by mail. Completed applications can be submitted by fax, mail or in-person to the local office.


EBT Cards

Applications can take up to 30 days to process. If you have little or no money and need help immediately, you may qualify for emergency benefits within seven days of applying. After your application is processed, you'll receive a notice in the mail letting you know whether your application was approved or denied. If you're approved, the notice indicates the monthly benefit amount and deposit date. Your EBT card also arrives in the mail. You'll need to activate the card and select a personal identification number before you using it. Generally, you may call the state's EBT customer service line to activate the card or visit the EBT website for online activation.