Help for Low-Income Familes: How to Apply for Food Stamps

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I have received several inquires from low-income families on how to apply for food stamps. There are certain requirements that you must meet in order to be eligible. The federal food stamp program, officially called SNAP which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has been in effect for 40 years. Each month, food stamps help over 28 million low-income families and individuals buy food to maintain good health.

Although SNAP is a federal government program, it is run by state or local agencies. Use this tool to find your local SNAP office where you can help in applying for food stamps. The following information will help you determine if you meet those requirements for food stamps to help buy food for your family.

Who can get food stamps?

Anyone can apply for food stamps. To get food stamps, you and the other people in your household must meet certain conditions. Everyone who is applying in your household must have or apply for a Social Security number and be either a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or have status as a qualified alien.

The following qualified aliens are eligible for food stamps without a waiting period:

  • Legal immigrant children under age 18;
  • Blind or disabled legal immigrants who receive disability assistance or benefits;
  • Individuals born on or before August 22, 1931, and who legally resided in the United States on August 22, 1996;
  • Lawful permanent residents who are active duty members or veterans of the U.S. armed forces or a spouse or a child of a veteran or active duty service member;
  • Refugees admitted under section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA);
  • Asylees under section 208 of the INA;
  • Deportees or removal withheld under section 243(h) or 241(b)(3) of the INA;
  • Cuban or Haitian entrants under section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980;
  • Amerasian immigrants under section 584 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 1988.

The following legal aliens are eligible ­without a waiting period even if they are not “qualified aliens:

  • Hmong or Highland Laotian tribal ­members (including their spouses and children)
    who helped the U.S. military during the Vietnam era;
  • American Indians born in Canada;
  • Members of Indian tribes under section 4(e) of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b(e)).

The following qualified aliens are eligible if they have lived in the U.S. for five years in qualified status:

  • Lawful permanent residents (they may be ­eligible sooner than five years if they have
    40 work credits);
  • Parolees (paroled for at least one year under section 212(d)(5) of INA);
  • Conditional entrants under 203(a)(7) of INA in effect prior to April 1, 1980;
  • A battered spouse, battered child or ­parent or child of a battered person with a petition pending under 204(a)(1)(A) or (B) or 244(a)(3) of INA.

Most able-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 60 must register for work to qualify for food stamps. Many people may be required to participate in an employment or training program. Some college students also may be eligible.

Resources (things you own)

Generally, your household cannot have more than $2,000 in resources. But, if your household includes a person age 60 or older or who is disabled, the limit is $3,000. Resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are not counted for food stamp purposes. Resources include cash, bank accounts and other property.

Not all the things you own count. For ­example, your home and the land it is on do not count for food stamp eligibility. A car or truck counts differently depending on how it is used. Most states now use TANF rules in place of food stamp vehicle rules if the TANF rules are more beneficial to the food stamp household.

Most households also must meet an income limit. Certain things do not count as income and can be subtracted from your income. Your household may qualify for other income exclusions if it includes a person age 60 or older or disabled. The income limits vary by household size and may change each year.

How can you apply for food stamps?

Food stamp applications are available at any Social Security office. If you and everyone in your household are applying for or already getting SSI payments, any Social Security office will help you fill out the food stamp application and send it to the food stamp office for you.

All others, including those applying for or getting only Social Security, must take or send their food stamp applications to the local food stamp office or to any Social Security office where a food stamp representative works.
When you are interviewed, you also should have:

  • Identification such as a driver’s license, state ID, birth certificate or alien card;
  • Proof of income such as pay stubs, Social Security, SSI or a pension for each member of your household;
  • Proof of how much you spend for child care;
  • Rent receipts or proof of your mortgage payments;
  • Records of your utility costs; and
  • Medical bills for those members of your household age 60 or older, and for those who receive government payments such as Social Security or SSI because they are disabled.

How much can you get and what can you buy?

You can find out how much you may be able to get online through the Food Stamp Pre-Screening Tool at

SNAP food stamp benefits can only be used to buy food and for plants and seeds to grow food for your household to eat. SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy:

  • Any nonfood item, such as pet foods; soaps, paper products, and household supplies; grooming items, toothpaste, and cosmetics
  • Alcoholic beverages and tobacco
  • Vitamins and medicines
  • Any food that will be eaten in the store
  • Hot foods

How Much Will the SNAP Benefit Be?

In 2008, the average monthly SNAP food stamp benefit was about $101 per person and about $227 per household. Maximum monthly benefits during Fiscal Year 2009 ranged from $200 for individuals to $1,202 for a family of eight. The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household’s allotment. This is because SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their resources on food.

Contacting Social Security

Our website is a valuable resource for information about all of Social Security’s programs. There are a number of things you can do online.

In addition to using our website, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. We can provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. (You can use our automated response system to tell us a new address or request a replacement Medicare card.) If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

We treat all calls confidentially. We also want to make sure you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some telephone calls.

Food Stamps

Help, Information and Applications
Available at any Social Security Office

Getting or applying for only Social Security?
  • You can get a food stamp application and information at any Social Security office.We cannot take food stamp applications from people getting or applyingnly for Social Security.
Getting or applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
  • You can apply for food stamps at any Social Security office if you and everyone in your household get or apply for SSI. We will help you fill out the food stamp application. You do not have to go to the food stamp office to apply.
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2 thoughts on “Help for Low-Income Familes: How to Apply for Food Stamps

  1. Hi yes i live in the uk i am not suer where it is u r at but i really dont seem to be getting any help from any where i have tryed from all the people who r involed with me and thery dont seem to be getting any where it would mean sop much to me if u could get me some help
    thank you for getting back to me so soon

  2. This is very helpful information; well researched an concise! It can be hard to find each of these sites individually, this is a great list. easy information for people in harder times. :-)

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