Can a Food Stamp Office Look at My Checking Account?

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The Right to Financial Privacy Act protects your checking account records. Because of the Act, Government authorities may access the information through a court order, subpoena, legitimate law enforcement request or with your permission. However, state and federal regulations may require access to your bank account – including recent statements, deposits and withdrawals – to determine food stamp eligibility. Unfortunately, though most applicants for the food stamp program are just those who truly need the assistance, some people do take advantage, leading to the institution of these checks and balances.

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Facts about Food Stamps

Your Department of Social Services or food stamp issuing office may request current bank statements as part of the application process. The Federal Government requires verification of citizenship, income, Social Security numbers and other qualifying information. Additional verification methods is an option that is decided on a state-by-state basis.

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In addition to bank statements, agencies may contact your bank and request financial information with your consent. Joint accounts must have the authorization of all account holders. Refusing to cooperate may result in denial of benefits. If you have any questions or concerns about the information being requested, you can contact the general SNAP information number through the United States Department of Agriculture.

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Asset Limits for Qualification

As of publication, you must apply with and be eligible with your state in order to receive food stamps. If your state determines that you are eligible, they will backdate your benefits to the date of your application.

States may increase or exclude food stamp asset limits. In addition to bank accounts, assets may include cash on hand, some vehicles and stocks and bonds. The limits exclude some retirement accounts, vehicles and your home.

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As of this writing, federal guidelines from the USDA stipulate that households may have up to $2,250 in assets, like cash or money in a bank account. Alternatively, they can have as much as $3,500 in countable resources if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or is disabled. These amounts are updated annually, so be sure to check back before you decide whether or not to apply.

Reporting Changes and Eligibility

Once approved, you must recertify at regular intervals to remain eligible. Recertification timeframes vary depending on income, household composition and state regulations. However, you must report certain changes immediately – usually within ten days – if the change affects food stamp eligibility.

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Changes may include an increase or decrease in income or assets, employment or changes to the household size. Overpayment of food stamp benefits due to failure to report changes as instructed may result in a repayment claim against the household.

Considerations for Applicants

Individuals, who intentionally omit income and assets, including bank accounts, may be suspended or disqualified from the program. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, violations result in a 12-month suspension for the first incident, 24-months for the second and permanent disqualification for the third violation. The food stamp issuing agency informs households of impending actions within ten days of verifying the violation. Food stamp recipients may appeal a decision and request a fair hearing.

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