How to Get Food Stamps When Self-Employed

Food stamp benefits are available to those in need, but applicants must document their income to ensure that it falls within state guidelines. The source of the income is irrelevant -- what matters is the amount. For this reason, self-employed individuals may apply for food stamps. However, they must be able to document the source of their income as well as the amount.


What Counts as Self-Employment

The first step to applying for food stamps as a self-employed person is to determine how your state defines self-employment, as this can differ from state to state. For example, Oregon considers someone to be self-employed if the business he works for considers him an independent contractor. If that's not the case, the food stamp applicant must meet at least four other criteria out of a longer list of options. Examples include not having to complete a W-4 form or not having federal income taxes withheld from paycheck. In Alaska, applicants must meet five criteria. A few of these include not being eligible for worker's compensation, earning income from her own business, and not having federal income taxes withheld.


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When it comes to applying for food stamps, the application process will be the same for you as it is for a traditionally-employed applicant. Obtain the application from your local health and human services agency. In many states, including California and Nevada, you can apply for food stamps online. The application will ask you about yourself, such as your date of birth and Social Security number, as well as your financial situation.

In some states, like California, a separate section of the application is dedicated to self-employment income. For example, if your self-employment income is from your business, identify the name of your business in 'source of income' section. If you work freelance between multiple employers, name the individual employers and amount of income you receive from each and how often that arrives. The application also will ask you to detail your monthly expenses, such as utilities.



Documentation is an important part of the food stamp application process and usually is requested during the interview phase. The interview typically happens shortly after you submit your application and can take place over the phone or in person. Some states don't require an interview at all if your documentation is in order. In these states, documentation is typically submitted with the application or sometime afterward, and an interview is scheduled only if clarification or more information is needed.


As proof of income, case workers routinely ask for paychecks. Since you're self-employed, you are unlikely to have such documents. As an alternative, the case worker likely will request bank statements and your most recent federal income tax return. Your expenses also will be scrutinized. Be prepared to provide business receipts, such as those for equipment purchases and repairs, advertising, and accounting and legal fees. Other documentation likely to be requested include payroll, lease or mortgage, and utility payment receipts.


Food stamp decisions typically are made within 30 days of submitting your application, although processing times can vary between states. Emergency food stamps typically are issued within seven days of application receipt. You will be informed of the decision in writing. If approved, the decision letter will disclose the amount of benefits you have been approved for. You will also receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, commonly known as EBT card. Your monthly benefits will be deposited onto this card, which can be used like a credit or debit card anywhere food stamps are accepted. When you swipe the card at the register and enter your Personal Identification Number, the amount of your purchase is deducted from your food stamp balance.