In order to fight against food insecurity and hunger in the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented a federal aid program through their Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) department. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides eligible low-income individuals and families with financial support for purchasing food for their household. The SNAP program, which was formerly referred to as the Food Stamp Program, is the largest nutrition assistance program in the nation providing for millions of Americans each year.

Although the SNAP program is overseen at a federal level by the USDA, state governments are given the authority to manage the program in their own way. Each state can establish the income limits and eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in its state. Additionally, state agencies can decide on the work requirements to participate in the program.

Learn About Requirements for SNAP

In order to receive food assistance from the SNAP program, you must meet the eligibility requirements established by the state where you currently live. The criteria to be qualified for SNAP is primarily based off of your household’s resource and income limits. States typically update their SNAP income and resource limits on a yearly basis. If you are looking to apply for food stamp benefits from SNAP, you must contact your local SNAP agency to find out the income limits in your local area.

Generally, beneficiaries of the SNAP program must meet their state’s work requirements in order to be eligible. Program members who fail to the following requirements may be disqualified from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:

  • Register for work.
  • Staying at a job without voluntarily quitting or working less hours.
  • Taking jobs that are offered.
  • Participating in state-assigned employment and training programs.

Note: Special groups of beneficiaries such as children, senior citizens, pregnant women and individuals with physical or mental disabilities may not be required to meet SNAP work requirements.

How to Apply for SNAP

In order to apply for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, applicants must contact their local SNAP office. Each state has their own application process, which can be completed at local SNAP agencies. Certain states may also offer the option of applying for food assistance online. Contact the SNAP agency in your area to find out the process to apply for SNAP financial assistance.

What can benefits from SNAP buy?

Households that receive SNAP benefits have a wide variety of foods that they can purchase. It is important for beneficiaries to know what items are acceptable to purchase using food assistance benefits. Some examples of foods that can be purchased using SNAP benefits include:

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Breads, baked goods and cereals.
  • Meats, fish, seafood and poultry.
  • Dairy products.
  • Seeds and plants which will become a source of food production for the family.
  • Non-alcoholic beverages.

Can I buy luxury items and junk food using my SNAP benefits?

When the Food and Nutrition Act was passed in 2008, a standard definition of “food” was set for the program. This defined food as any food product intended to be consumed at home. Seeds or plants grown for the intention of producing food can also be purchased using SNAP benefits. Under this definition of SNAP, some luxury or non-nutritious food items including the following can be purchased using food assistance benefits:

  • Sodas and other beverages, candies, cookies and ice cream.
  • Snack crackers and pastries.
  • Cakes from the bakery.
  • Live seafood, fish and shellfish.
  • Steak.

What purchases are not covered by SNAP food assistance benefits?

Households are not allowed to use their SNAP food assistance benefits on hot food, food to be eaten in the store or nonfood items such as alcoholic beverages or tobacco. Benefits are also ineligible for purchasing food for pets. Although vitamins and minerals provide nutritional value, they are considered supplements and are not purchasable using SNAP benefits.

Note: In some areas of the country, states have authorized restaurants to accept SNAP benefits from individuals or families who are homeless, elderly or disabled who meet certain qualifications. These benefits are used to purchase low-cost meals that can be eaten in the restaurant.

How do I receive my SNAP benefits?

After you application has been processed and you have been found to be eligible for SNAP benefits, you will receive your financial assistance on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. EBT cards are accepted at a variety of grocery stores and authorized retailers. In most states, SNAP benefits can even be used at local farmer’s markets or food stands. Program beneficiaries will automatically have their funds loaded onto their EBT account each month and can be used immediately.


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