How to Apply for Food Stamps (SNAP) in the US

Posted on Aug 19 2015 - 12:55pm by admin

Foods stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), is a United States federal government program that is administered by state and local agencies. SNAP provides assistance to low income families to buy food by providing a monthly food allowance. The SNAP card is used much like a debit card by swiping, then entering pre-determined PIN # to purchase approved food items.

However, there are strict requirements that must be met in order for a household to qualify for assistance.  The application process can be confusing and a bit tricky if you’re not equipped with the necessary information.

Here’s a complete guide to applying and getting approved for SNAP (Food Stamp) assistance in the United States. We walk you exactly through the whole process, from start to finish.

Part 1 – Meeting the Requirements

how to apply for snap

Every member of your household that you wish to receive assistance must have a social security number and be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or qualified alien. If you are not sure of your status or the status of a household member, check, Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website.

Step 1: Determine Your Status

  1. S. Citizen – someone who was born in the United States, was born abroad to parents that are both U.S. citizens, or has taken the citizenship test to obtain citizenship.
  2. S. National – someone who was born in an American territory, such as Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, or someone who was born abroad to one citizen parent and one non-citizen parent.
  3. Qualified Alien – someone who is not a citizen of the United States, but is either:
    1. A lawfully admitted permanent resident
    2. A refugee
    3. Someone who has been granted asylum

 Step 2: Provide Your Household Income

You will be asked to provide detailed information on your resources.  The government defines resources as everything you own including your bank, retirement and investment accounts. There are a few assets that you might have that don’t count towards the worth of your total resources.  These include:

  1. Any resources of household members who receive SSI (Social Security Insurance) or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).
  2. Your home and the land that it sits on, if you own them.
  3. Your vehicle (depending on the state you reside in and how it’s used). Please check your state requirements.

Generally speaking, you cannot have more than $2,250 in resources to qualify for SNAP benefits.  If you have a senior citizen living in your household, that amount is increased to $3,250. This amount is current until September 30, 2015. If you apply for benefits after this date, you will have to check the SNAP website to determine the current resource limits.

Step 3: Show the Source of Household Income

You will be asked to provide detailed information on the income of all household members.  This will include each member’s official employment and all other sources of income, (i.e. child support, etc.).   It also includes the gross amount he or she earns each month. There is an income limit, however, certain things, such as Social Security payments, are not counted towards your income in determining your SNAP eligibility.

In order to qualify for benefits, your net monthly income must be lower than:

  1. $973 for a household of 1
  2. $1,311 for a household of 2
  3. $1,650 for a household of 3
  4. $1,988 for a household of 4
  5. $2,326 for a household of 5
  6. $2,665 for a household of 6
  7. $3,003 for a household of 7
  8. $3,341 for a household of 8
  9. $339 for each additional member beyond 8

Step 4: Using the SNAP Screening Tool

The US Dept. of Agriculture provides a free screening tool to help you determine if you are eligible to receive SNAP benefits based on your income and resources. Another resource to begin the process is Project Bread at 1-800-645-8333.  They can provide assistance in starting an application or answering any questions you might have.

Part 2 – Applying For and Receiving Benefits

applying for food stamps in the us


Once you’ve actually used the above tool (Step 4 in Part 1) and determined that you indeed to qualify to receive Food Stamp Aid, then you actually need to APPLY.

This can be a bit tricky as there are some strict application requirements. Fortunately, is here to walk you through the process in detail.

Step 1: Locate your local SNAP office


Once you have determined that you meet the eligibility requirements to receive benefits, you have to locate your local office. Click on the link below to access an interactive map that is provided by the Dept. of Agriculture.

Just click on your state on the map:

If you are applying for Social Security Insurance (SSI) benefits, your local office has the necessary forms and can help you.

Note that if you don’t have SSI, you will have to go to the local SNAP office to apply.

Since each state handles its own SNAP program, many states use different names for the program. If you have access to a computer, simply Google, “Food Stamp Program in (whatever state you reside in).  It will pull up the specific name. If you do not have access to a computer, call your SSI benefits office for assistance. You can call a toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 and they can direct you to your local office.

Step 2: Completing The Application


Depending on the state that you live in, you may be able to apply on-line.  Other states will ask you download and print the application, call to have one mailed to you or you can pick an application up in person. Once you have determined the program name for your state, visit their website to find out if you can apply on-line. Although the application process may differ from state to state, the type of information requested is essentially the same. It will include:

  1. Household financial information, such as rent or house payments; heating, cooling and other utility costs, any cash on hand or bank accounts; child care costs; and any income received from work or other sources, such as SSI, child support or unemployment benefits.
  2. The number of dependents in your household
  3. Government benefits that you may currently receive or have received in the past. These may include, but not limited to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security or veteran’s benefits.
  4. All medical documentation for you and/or the people that are residing in your household.

Step 3: Submitting The Application


Once you have completed your application and reviewed it for completeness, you are ready to submit.  It doesn’t matter if you submit by Internet, regular mail or in person.  Please note that if you apply in person, you might be able to get automatically screened to expedite the process.  This will allow you to receive any benefits awarded more quickly.

If you opt to go in person, they might be able to usher you through the process within five (5) days.  If you have less than $100 in your bank account and meet a few other requirements, you could receive your benefits rather quickly.

No matter how you apply, you should start receiving benefits, if you qualify, within 30 days from the date that you are approved (not the date that you apply). If you have not received a response from your local SNAP office within 30 days, you should contact your local office.

Step 4: The Interview Process


You will be required to provide certain documentation of your financial situation at your scheduled interview.  These include:

  1. Proof of your identity, such as your driver’s license, state or military ID card
  2. Proof of residency (unless you are homeless). Examples of this are utility bills, rent receipt, lease or mortgage statement.
  3. The social security numbers of everyone that you are applying for. If you do not have a social security number for everyone, you will need to apply and obtain one prior to your interview.
  4. Proof of all earned and unearned income before taxes or deductions. They will accept pay stubs, an employer wage statement, and benefits letter from Social Security unemployment compensation, VA or pension.
  5. You must provide the names, ages and relationship of all household members.
  6. Proof of immigration status for all non-citizens that are applying.
  7. Proof of all child support payments (if you want these payments to be considered). This must be in the form of a support order, separation agreement or child support payment records.
  8. All medical expenses if you are age 60 or older and/or receive any federal disability benefits. This may be doctor or hospital bills, prescription receipts, receipts for over-the-counter medical expenses (if they have been prescribed by a medical practitioner) and any transportation costs to get medical care.
  9. If you are working, looking for work or participating in workforce training, you can provide childcare expense receipts.

Step 5: Obtaining Your EBT Card

download (14)

Once you have met all of the requirements and had the interview, you will receive notifications of your benefits.  Check your mailbox because you will be receiving a plastic EBT card (much like a debit card) to use when shopping.

Your SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase approved food items.  If you try to purchase non-approved items, you may be penalized and in some cases, have your benefits taken away.

Step 6: Re-certify Your Benefits

Once you have started receiving your SNAP benefits for a certain amount of time, you must “re-certify” to your local office to keep receiving your benefits. Please note:

  1. Recertification periods can range anytime from a month to once a year.
  2. If you have regularly earned income, chances are you will have to re-certify yearly.
  3. You will be assigned a caseworker who will let you know how often you must re-certify based on your specific situation.
  4. If you have had a change in your situation since you last reported, you might have to submit verification documents. For example, if your income has decreased and you need to receive an increase in your benefits, you might need to submit proof of your adjusted income. Your caseworker can give you instruction and guidance regarding a change in your status.

Part 3: Other Related Programs

wic program

There are several additional food assistance programs offered by the government to help low income women with children. You may want to check them out IF you are pursuing food stamp assistance. You may just qualify for additional food assistance.

Here are the major food assistance programs in the US. Keep in mind there may be local STATE FOOD assistance programs and private assistance (charities, food banks) that can provide more benefits too. Make sure you read our Food Assistance article for even more details about food assistance programs in the US.

Other government food programs you may want to look at:

The Final Word

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families. It also provides economic benefits to communities that are served. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. It provides much needed food to thousands of children that might otherwise go hungry.

The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits. This agency also works with State partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program integrity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Food and Nutrition Service continues to conduct research and studies aimed at improving the program. By improving access to the program the goal is to increase participation rates for those who are eligible for the SNAP/Food Stamps, but are not currently receiving benefits.

Note, if you need more food assistance, then check out our Guide to Food Assistance Programs article.