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How do I Get SNAP benefits?
A member of your household has to apply at the local office. It should be listed in the government section of the local telephone book. This is generally the quickest way to find the local office. If that doesn't work, try calling the SNAP Hotline for your State. Most of them are toll free numbers.
If you are unable to go to the local office, you may have another person, called an authorized representative, apply and be interviewed on your behalf. You must designate the authorized representative in writing.
Normally a household must file an application form, have a face-to-face interview, and provide proof (verification) of certain information, such as income and expenses. The office interview may be waived if the household is unable to appoint an authorized representative and no household member is able to go to the office because of age or disability. If the office interview is waived, the local office will interview you by telephone or do a home visit. A home visit must be scheduled beforehand with the household.
What is a Household?
Everyone who lives together and purchases and prepares meals together is grouped together as one household. However, if a person is 60 years of age or older and he or she is unable to purchase and prepare meals separately because of a permanent disability, the person and the person's spouse may be a separate household if the others they live with do not have very much income. (More than 165 percent of the poverty level.)
Some people who live together, such as husbands and wives and most children under age 22, are included in the same household, even if they purchase and prepare meals separately.
Normally people are not eligible for SNAP benefits if an institution gives them their meals. However, there is one exception for elderly persons and one for disabled persons:
Residents of federally subsidized housing for the elderly may be eligible for SNAP benefits, even though they receive their meals at the facility. Disabled persons who live in certain nonprofit group living arrangements (small group homes with no more than 16 residents) may be eligible for SNAP benefits, even though the group home prepares their meals for them.
What Resources Can I Have (and Still Get SNAP Benefits)?
Households may have $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account, or $3,000 in countable resources if at least one person is age 60 or older, or is disabled. However, certain resources are NOT counted, such as a home and lot, most retirement (pension) plans, the resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the resources of people who receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) (formerly AFDC), and, up to $4,650 of the fair market value of one car per adult household member (and one car per teen-aged household member if the teenager is using it to go to work, look for work, or prepare for work). If a vehicle is needed to transport a physically disabled household member, its value is not counted. The resources of people who get SSI and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are not counted at all. An important exception to this is that in the State of California SSI recipients are not eligible for SNAP benefits, because they receive a State supplement to their SSI benefits in lieu of SNAP benefits.
What Are the Income Limits?
Most households have to meet both a monthly gross income test and a monthly net income test to be eligible for SNAP benefits. However, households in which all members are receiving SSI or TANF are considered to be eligible based on income. Other households with one or more elderly members only have to meet the net income test. Net income is gross income minus certain deductions.
What Deductions Are Allowed?
The allowable deductions are: a standard deduction for all households; a 20% earned income deduction; a deduction for dependent care costs when necessary for work, training, or education; a deduction for legally owed child support payments; a deduction for medical costs for elderly and disabled people; and an excess shelter cost deduction.
Medical deduction. For elderly members and disabled members, allowable medical costs that are more than $35 a month may be deducted unless an insurance company or someone who is not a household member pays for them. Only the amount over $35 each month may be deducted. Allowable costs include most medical and dental expenses, such as doctor bills, prescription drugs and other over-the-counter medication when approved by a doctor, dentures, inpatient and outpatient hospital expenses, and nursing care. They also include other medically related expenses, such as certain transportation costs, attendant care, and health insurance premiums. The costs of special diets are not allowable medical costs. Proof of medical expenses and insurance payments is required before a deduction for these expenses may be allowed.
Shelter deduction. The shelter deduction is for shelter costs that are more than half of the household's income after other deductions. Allowable shelter costs include the costs of rent or mortgage, taxes, interest, and utilities such as gas, electricity, and water. For most households, there is a limit on the amount of the deduction that can be allowed, but for a household with an elderly or disabled member all shelter costs over half of the household's income may be deducted.
Receiving SNAP benefits:
States issue SNAP benefits through local State or county offices to households that are eligible to receive them. Traditionally, they issued paper food stamps, but increasingly, States issue the benefits through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT). The local office gives the household a plastic electronic card. The household pays for its groceries at authorized food stores (almost all food stores are authorized) by using the card at the checkout counter. It works like the bank debit card that other people use to pay for their groceries in increasing numbers of stores. The cost of the groceries bought is deducted from the household's account automatically. A major advantage of this method is that the use of food coupons is not conspicuous. Most other people in line will not notice that the person checking out is paying with food coupons. We have found that SNAP households like this feature, because it reduces the stigma many people feel in using SNAP benefits.
A second advantage is that the household no longer needs to go anywhere to pick up benefits each month. Benefits are automatically loaded into the household's account each month on the designated date. We have found that households especially enjoy this feature.