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Friday, April 3, 2015

How to Apply for Food Stamps in the US

Food Stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), as it is now known, is a U.S. federal government program run by state and local agencies. SNAP helps low-income families buy food by providing a monthly ‘food allowance’ that can be used by swiping a SNAP card the same way one would swipe a debit or credit card. However, there are strict requirements that must be met for a household to qualify for SNAP assistance, and the application process can be tricky if you're not equipped with all the information you need.

Part 1 of 2: Meeting the Requirements

  1. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 1.jpg
    Make sure you have the appropriate citizenship status. Each member of a household for whom you wish to receive SNAP benefits must have a social security number (“SSN”) and be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or qualified alien. If you are unsure of your immigration status, check it online on the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website.
    • A U.S. citizen is 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.
    • A U.S. national is someone who was born in an american territory such as Puerto Rico or American Samoa, or someone who was born abroad to one citizen parent and one non-citizen parent.
    • A qualified alien is someone who is not a citizen of the United States, but is either
      • A lawfully admitted permanent resident,
      • A refugee
      • Someone who has been granted asylum.
    • To learn more about qualified alien’s, visit the website for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[1]
    • If you are able-bodied and between the ages of 18 and 60, you must have some sort of employment to qualify for SNAP.[2]
  2. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 2.jpg
    Figure out the worth of your assets. The SNAP application will ask for detailed information on all of your resources, which the government defines as everything you own including all of your bank, retirement, and investment accounts.
    • There are, however, a few exceptions — assets that don't count toward the worth of your overall assets or resources. These include:
      • The resources of household members who receive Social Security Insurance (“SSI”) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) benefits.
      • Your home and the land it is on, if you own them.
      • Your vehicle, depending on your state of residence and how it is used.
    • Generally speaking, in order to qualify for SNAP benefits, you cannot have more than $2,250 in resources. If you have a senior citizen in your household, that amount is upped to $3,250.[2]
      • This amount is current until September 30, 2015.
      • If you apply for benefits after the above date, check the SNAP website to figure out the current resource limits.[3]
  3. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 3.jpg
    Ascertain all sources of household income. The SNAP application will ask for detailed information on income for all household members. This includes each member's official employment and all other sources of income, and the gross amount he or she earns each month. There is an income limit to applying for SNAP. But, certain things — Social Security payments, for example — are not counted towards your income for SNAP eligibility purposes. [2] To qualify for SNAP benefits, your net monthly income must be lower than:[4]
    • $973 for a household of 1
    • $1,311 for a household of 2
    • $1,650 for a household of 3
    • $1,988 for a household of 4
    • $2,326 for a household of 5
    • $2,665 for a household of 6
    • $3,003 for a household of 7
    • $3,341 for a household of 8
    • $339 for each additional member beyond 8.
  4. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 4.jpg
    Use the free SNAP screening tool. The United States Department of Agriculture provides a free screening tool to help you determine if you are eligible to receive SNAP benefits based on your resources and income.
    • Though you probably have Internet access, since you're reading this, you can start an application or ask questions over the phone. Project Bread can help you out at 1-800-645-8333.[5]

Part 2 of 2: Applying for and Receiving Benefits

  1. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 5.jpg
    Locate your local SNAP office. If you are eligible to receive SNAP benefits, use the interactive map provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to locate your local office and/or state application.[6] Just click on your state on the map.
    • Your local Social Security office can help you, too, if you have or are applying for SSI benefits. They have the appropriate forms, and can send them to their sister SNAP office if that's easier for you. If you don't have SSI, however, you'll need to go to the SNAP office in person.[2]
    • Since each state handles its own SNAP services, many states use different names for the benefits. For instance, the program is called CalFresh in California[7] and the Food Assistance Program in Florida.[8]
  2. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 6.jpg
    Follow the application instructions provided by your local SNAP office.Several states allow residents to apply online, while others will ask you to download and print an application, call to have one mailed to you, or pick one up in person. Visit the SNAP website to find out if your state allows online applications.[9]Each state’s application process will differ, but the type of information requested will be essentially the same, and will include:
    • Household financial information, such as money spent on rent; house payments; heating and cooling and other utilities; cash on hand or money in a bank account; childcare costs; and income from work or other sources such as Social Security, SSI, child support, or unemployment benefits[10]
    • Number of dependents in the household
    • Government benefits you currently receive or have received in the past (i.e. Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, or veteran's benefits)
    • Medical information for you and/or the people who reside in your household
  3. 3
    Submit your application. Again, every state's procedure differs. However you can (whether by Internet, snail mail, or in person), submit your application. It should be noted that if you apply in person, you may be automatically screened for expedited processing, allowing you to receive benefits more quickly.
    • If you go in person, the office might be able to usher you through the process within five days. If you have less than $100 in your bank account and meet a few other requirements, benefits could come your way very quickly.[11]
    • No matter how you apply, you should receive your benefits within 30 days.The benefits begin on the date of your application if you are approved. For example, if you applied on March 1st and did not get your benefits until March 25th, you will be credited for March 1-25.
    • If you have not heard from the SNAP office regarding your eligibility within 30 days, contact your local office.[12]
  4. Apply for Food Stamps in the US Step 7.jpg
    Schedule and attend an interview. At your interview, you will need to provide certain documentation of your financial situation. Required documentation may include:
    • Proof of your identity, such as a driver’s license or state or military identification card.
    • Proof of address (unless you are homeless), such as an electric, gas, water or phone bill, rent receipt, lease, or mortgage statement.
    • The Social Security numbers of everyone for whom you are applying. If you do not have a Social Security number, you will need to apply for one.
    • Proof of the amount of all earned and unearned monthly income before taxes or deductions — such as pay stubs, an employer wage statement, benefits letter from Social Security unemployment compensation, Veterans Administration, or pension.
    • Name, age, and relationship of all household members.
    • Proof of immigration status for all non-citizens who are applying.
    • Proof of child support payments you make, if you want the payments to be considered. Acceptable proof includes a support order, separation agreement, or child support payment records.
    • Proof of medical expenses if you are age 60 or older and/or receive federal disability benefits — for example, doctor or hospital bills, prescription receipts, receipts for over-the-counter medical expenses (if prescribed by a medical practitioner), and transportation costs to get medical care.
    • Proof of childcare expenses as long as you are working, looking for work, or participating in workforce training.
  5. 5
    Obtain your EBT card. If you've met all the requirements and had the interview, you will receive notification of your imminent benefits. In the mail, you'll receive a plastic electronic card (an EBT card) you'll use when shopping. [13]
    • This way, you never have to go anywhere to reload your card or obtain that month's benefits. Everything's automatic -- as long as you have your card, you have benefits![14]
  6. 6
    Follow the rules once you receive your card. SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase approved food items.[15] If you try to purchase non-approved items, you may be penalized. In some cases, your benefits may be taken away.
  7. 7
    Re-certify your benefits. After you've been receiving SNAP benefits for a certain time, you must “re-certify,” or report to your local office to continue receiving benefits.
    • Recertification times can range from once a month to once a year.
    • Most families who have regularly earned income must re-certify once a year.
    • Your caseworker will tell you how often you must re-certify based on your specific facts and situation.
    • If your situation has changed at all since you last reported, you may have to submit verification documents. For instance, if your income has gone down and you need to receive more benefits, you may need to submit proof of income. Contact your caseworker for guidance.
    • If you do not re-certify your benefits, they will be cancelled and you will have to reapply.

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  • The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) limits the receipt of SNAP benefits to 3 months in a 3-year period for able-bodied adults without dependents who are not working, participating in a workfare program, or participating in (and complying with) the requirements of a work program for 20 hours or more each week.[16] Though many states suspended this limit during the highest periods of unemployment during the Great Recession, more states (including Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming) have begun phasing out the relaxed standards.[17]
  • For more information on the SNAP program, visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s website.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility bills (if any)
  • Income statements (if any)
  • Rent statement (if you have one)
  • Bank statement (if you have one)
  • Social Security card (exceptions may apply)
  • Statement of buying and preparing food separately (exceptions may apply)

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