If your household income qualifies, you may be eligible to receive help with your food bill each month with benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, SNAP benefits can help ensure that your family receives the quality meat, produce, dairy and other food items needed to maintain proper nutrition and health.
Food stamp eligibility is based on both the monthly gross and net incomes of your household, adjusted for household size. A household is defined as any group of people –- related or not -– who live, purchase and prepare food together. Gross income is defined as your household's combined earned income plus any income household members receive from all other sources, such as alimony, child support, worker's compensation or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Net income is determined by subtracting from your household's monthly gross income one or more allowable deductions that include a standard deduction of $142 for households with one to three members and $153 for households with four or more members; dependent care, if needed for you or other household members to work or receive training or other education; or child support payments you or other household members legally owe. After adjusting for household size and applying all allowable deductions, your gross household income cannot exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Your net household income cannot exceed 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
There are several income exceptions. For example, if a member of your household is age 60 or over and has a permanent disability that prevents him from purchasing and preparing meals on his own, that person and his spouse can be considered as a separate household for income qualification purposes if the combined income of the remaining household members does not exceed 165 percent of the federal poverty level. Another exception applies if all members of your household receive SSI or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In this case, your household is automatically considered to be eligible based on income.
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Differences by State
Food stamp income qualification criteria can vary by state. For example, you're not eligible to receive federal food stamp benefits if you live in California and receive SSI because the monthly payment includes a state supplement paid in lieu of SNAP benefits. Check with your local food stamp office (see Resource 4) to learn any special requirements that may apply to residents of your state.
The USDA Food and Nutrition Service offers an online Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool (see Resource 3) in English and Spanish to help you determine whether your income may qualify you to receive food stamps. To use the tool, you'll need to know the amounts you pay for monthly expenses, such as rent, utilities and day care. You'll also need to know the amount of your household's gross monthly income. You should note that the Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool is not the food stamp application. You'll need to visit your local food stamp office to apply for benefits.