Your Quick Guide to SNAP: Benefits, Eligibility, and More
What is SNAP?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that helps low-income Americans ensure that they have food for their families. Over 9.5 million American families are on SNAP, the largest program in the United States designed to target hunger. SNAP helps ensure that the most at-risk families have their basic nutritional needs met during times of financial hardship. It predominantly serves households that have family members who are children, elderly, or disabled. Almost half of all SNAP participants are children. SNAP was previously known as “food stamps,” but now is administered through an EBT card instead of paper coupons. It is administered by individual state agencies.
How are SNAP households defined?
The federal government pays for SNAP benefits. Federal eligibility for SNAP is limited to people with gross incomes up to 130% of the federal poverty level. That translates to $34,060 for a family of four. Everyone who lives together and purchases and prepares meals together is grouped together as one SNAP household. And SNAP benefits are administered per household. This means that spouses and children under the age of 22 are included in the same SNAP household. This is true even if these individuals purchase and prepare their meals separately.
Those who are age 60 and older, who are unable to purchase and prepare meals separately because of a permanent disability, may be labeled as their own SNAP household from their spouse. This happens only if the other members of their household have combined incomes less than 165% of the federal poverty level.
Individuals without dependents or a disability can only receive three months of SNAP benefits during any three-year period if they are not working a minimum of 20 hours a week or participating in a job training program.
What food benefits does SNAP provide?
SNAP participants can use SNAP to buy any kind of food for their household members, including fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry and fish; dairy products; breads and cereals; snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages; and seeds and plants that produce food that the eligible household can eat.
SNAP benefits do not allow the purchase of any kind of alcohol or tobacco products. Vitamins, medicine, and other supplements are also not covered by SNAP. Keep in mind that if an item has a Supplement Facts label, it is considered a supplement. Thus, this items would not be eligible for SNAP purchase.
Prepared foods and other to-go foods are also ineligible for SNAP.
How much money do you get through SNAP?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan calculates how much a household can receive in SNAP benefits. This estimates how much it costs to buy food to prepare low-cost, healthy food for your household. This estimate changes every year to keep pace with food prices and to ensure you can purchase nutritious foods.
Maximum monthly SNAP benefits by household size
|Household size||Maximum monthly benefit for 2020|
|Each add’l person||$146|
How do you get food through SNAP?
All SNAP benefits are issued through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. EBT cards look like a credit card: They are small plastic cards with a magnetic stripe on the back and, sometimes, a “smart chip” too. You can sign up for FreshEBT to track your EBT balance and get coupons through your phone.
SNAP participants receive EBT cards through their state SNAP agencies pre-filled with certain amounts. Using the EBT card, a person can buy SNAP-eligible food. You can search the government’s official SNAP website to find out at which farmer’s markets and grocers you may use your SNAP EBT card.
An allotment is the total amount of SNAP benefits per given household each month. To calculate a SNAP household’s allotment, multiply the household’s net monthly income by 0.3. Then, subtract this number number from the maximum monthly allotment for your household size. Right now, the maximum monthly allotment for SNAP benefits is $646 for a household of four people.
There are a few states that are participating in an online purchasing pilot where you can use your SNAP benefits to purchase food online.
What are the work requirements for SNAP benefits?
While SNAP eligibility is based on income, SNAP participants can’t receive their benefits without meeting certain work requirements.
General work requirements
SNAP participants between the ages of 16 and 59 who are able to work must meet SNAP’s general work requirement. If you fall into this demographic, you cannot receive SNAP benefits otherwise. This means registering for work, participating in a certified job training program as assigned by your state’s SNAP agency, taking a job if offered one, and not voluntarily quitting a job or reducing your hours to less than 30 hours a week without good reason.
A person can be excused from the general work requirement for SNAP benefits if they are already working at least 30 hours a week. They can also be excused if they are earning the equivalent of what 30 hours a week at minimum wage would be. The same is true is they are meeting the work requirements for another program like TANF. Other exemptions include collecting unemployment benefits, taking care of a child under the age of 6 or an incapacitated adult, or being unable to work due a physical or mental limitation. Actively and regularly participating in an alcohol or drug treatment program also is a qualified exemption. You may also be exempt from the general work requirement for SNAP if you are in school at least half-time. Keep in mind that there may be different policies for college students depending on the state.
Fail to meet SNAP’s general work requirement results? Then you will be disqualified for SNAP for at least a month. Then, you can try to meet the requirements again. If you re-qualify for SNAP after meeting the general work requirements and then fail to continue to meet the requirements, you will be disqualified for SNAP for more than a month. Sometimes re-qualifying and then failing to meet the work requirement can mean being disqualified from SNAP benefits permanently.
Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents work requirements and time limit
There is one additional work requirement for SNAP for those who are between the ages of 18 and 49, are able to work, and do not have dependents. This is the Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) work requirement and time limit. If you meet this description, you might need to meet both the general work requirements and the ABAWD requirements in order to receive more than 3 months of SNAP benefits in a 3-year time period.
At least 80 hours of work per months meets the ABAWD work requirement. These 80 hours can be for pay, for goods and services, or as a volunteer. Another qualifier for the ABAWD work requirement is participating in a work program at least 80 hours a month. This can be through SNAP Employment and Training or a federal, state, or local work program. It can also be through participating in a combination of work and job training programs for at least a total of 80 hours a month. Or it can be through workfare for a specific number of hours each month. The amount of your monthly SNAP benefits will determine the number of work hours assigned.
Failure to meet the ABAWD requirement
A person can be excused from the ABAWD work requirement and time limit if they are unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation, are pregnant, or have someone under the age of 18 in their SNAP household. You may also be exempt if you are already excused from the general work requirements.
Those who need to meet the ABAWD work requirements and don’t will lose their SNAP benefits after three months. To be able to re-enroll in SNAP, a person would then need to meet the ABAWD work requirements for a 30-day period. Or, a person can re-enroll is they get an excuse based on the above reasons.
And failure to meet the ABAWD work requirements means waiting. A person must then wait until the end of the three-year period that began with their first getting SNAP benefits to re-apply. Failure to comply with the ABAWD work requirements again will result in the implementation of another 3-month limit for a three-year period.
How do I apply for SNAP?
You can apply for SNAP by contacting your state’s SNAP agency. After you submit an application with your state’s agency, you will be notified within 30 days whether or not you are eligible for SNAP benefits.
Although you typically also need to complete an eligibility interview during this window, SNAP interviews have been canceled because of COVID-19. Until May of 2020, you don’t need to interview, and you just need to give proof (verification) of the information you provided.
If your household has less than $100 in liquid resources and $150 in monthly gross income, or if your household’s combined monthly gross income and liquid resources are less than what you pay each month for rent or mortgage and utilities, then you may be eligible to receive SNAP benefits within only 7 days of your application.
How long can I participate in SNAP?
If you are eligible for SNAP benefits, your eligibility notification will also tell you how long you will receive SNAP benefits for. This period is known as your certification period. Before the end of your certification period, you will receive a notice reminding you that you must re-certify your SNAP benefits to continue receiving them. This notice will give you any additional information you may need about what you need to do to re-certify.
What other programs could I be eligible for?
Find out if you’re eligble for:
- 10 government programs for low income families
- WIC (a program for women, infants, and children)
- Medicaid (free or very low-cost health insurance)
And grab our guide to finding a free clinic near you.
You can also see if you’re eligible for Medicaid or a subsidized Marketplace health insurance plan by entering your zip code below.