The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program often is still known as food stamps, even though recipients now buy food with debit cards. Most of the qualifications are set at the federal level, but some details are determined by the states.
To qualify for SNAP, most households must meet the gross income test. At time of writing, a one-person household must have a pre-tax monthly income of no more than $1,265; as the household adds members, the cutoff goes up by roughly $440 a person. The government periodically adjusts the figures to account for inflation.
The household then deducts some of its expenses from gross income to see if it passes the net income test. A one-person household's net income, for instance, must be no more than $973. Deductions include:
- 20 percent of earned income.
- $155 standard deduction. This goes up for households of four or more.
- The cost of child support payments.
- Costs of shelter if they're more than half the household's net income.
Monthly SNAP benefits are set at around 30 percent of net monthly income.
Households with an elderly or disabled member may only have to meet the net income test, not gross income. If the entire household receives aid from certain federal programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, it automatically passes the SNAP income test.
A household may have up to $2,250 in "countable resources" such as a bank account and still qualify for SNAP. If the household has one member over 60 or disabled, that amount rises to $3,250. The government excludes some resources, such as the family home, from the calculation.
Although the federal government lays down most of the rules for SNAP, the states have some flexibility. For example they can allow applicants to take extra deductions from income, or decide whether the value of the household car counts against the resource limit. California, for example, allows homeless applicants to deduct up to $143 for shelter costs when figuring net income.
States have the option to adopt the income and resource exclusion rules used for Medicaid and Temporary Aid for Families With Needy Children rather than SNAP. This usually makes it easier to qualify. South Carolina uses this option for SNAP income; Alabama, Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia are among the 34 states that use this exclusion option for resources and income both. Other states, such as Colorado, Rhode Island and Minnesota, go with the standard SNAP income and resources rules.
The United States Department of Agriculture has a list online showing which states exclude vehicles as resources for TANF calculations. For example:
- Alabama excludes all vehicles.
- Arizona excludes some vehicles— unlicensed vehicles, vehicles used for hunting or fishing — but most have to be included as a resource.
- Colorado excludes one vehicle per household.
- Indiana excludes all vehicles used for transportation.
- Maine excludes one vehicle per household. However, if children under 18 live there with a parent, all vehicles are excluded.