Eligibility for Food Stamps

Petitioners who want to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) must meet strict eligibility requirements set by each state.

The program is a joint federal and state program that provides nutritional assistance to low-income families. There are several requirements relating to income, residency and work. Every year, states set income limits based on the federal poverty level (FPL).

Applicants must also be residents of the states in which they are applying. However, some requirements vary in every state. For instance, some states require able-bodied adults with no dependents to meet work or school requirements to qualify for the program.

Other states may provide information or the application for SNAP along with the application for Social Security benefits.

It is important to note that applicants must meet all requirements to qualify. Individuals who are unsure if they meet the qualifications can still apply. The application is free and available online, in many states. For more information on how to determine eligibility for SNAP, review the sections below.

SNAP Income Requirements

The biggest factor determining eligibility for the food stamps program is income. Because the program caters to low-income families, there are strict financial requirements to meet. Every state uses the FPL as a benchmark for income limits.

Applicants’ household income must fall at or below a certain percentage of the FPL to qualify. The income limits differ based on household size. For instance, a household size of three will have different income limits than a family of six. As such, each limit corresponds to the size of the family.

The income requirements include income from several sources, both earned and unearned income. The former includes income that applicants gain through employment while the latter refers to employment insurance, child support, cash assistance and Social Security benefits.

Some states also set asset limits for each household. This includes elderly and disabled applicants may have higher limits than other applicants.

To avoid applying in vain, it is important to calculate your total household income before submitting the SNAP application. Be sure to include all sources of income for yourself and your family members. Make sure to also include information about Social Security disability benefit recipients in your household. 

SNAP Residency Requirements

SNAP also has residency requirements that all applicants must meet. The federal government sponsors the program, but each state manages its own agency. As such, all petitioners must be U.S. citizens or legal residents. Applicants will need to submit proof of citizenship or legal presence, such as:

  • A valid, unexpired U.S. passport.
  • A permanent resident card.
  • A certified U.S. birth certificate.
  • A U.S. certificate of birth abroad.
  • A Social Security number (SSN).

The program also makes exceptions for non-citizens who otherwise qualify for the program. Refugees, victims of human trafficking and other eligible non-citizens typically receive documentation to prove their legal presence and can then qualify for the program.

Applicants who meet the federal requirement will also need to meet the state residency qualification. All petitioners must live in the state and/or county in which they are submitting their SNAP applications. For instance, a Chicago resident cannot apply for SNAP benefits in Boston.

There are several documents applicants can provide to prove residency. Each state provides a list of acceptable documents for each requirement. In some states, petitioners may only need to provide a state-issued ID card or license. In others, the SNAP office may require a utility bill or statement showing the applicant’s home address.

Note: To avoid delays in processing, applicants should prepare multiple documents for each requirement.

Additional SNAP Eligibility Requirements

Some states have more eligibility requirements than others do. While the income and residency requirements are standard across all states, some additional requirements only apply in certain regions.

For instance, the federal law mandates that able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) can only receive SNAP benefits for up to three months within a three-year period, unless they meet certain conditions. ABAWD are between 18 and 49 years of age and do not have any mental or physical disabilities.

ABAWD who want to remain eligible for SNAP benefits beyond the allowed period will need to meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • The applicant works at least 80 hours a month
  • The applicant joins a workfare program
  • The applicant participates in qualifying training or education activities for at least 80 hours a month

The goal of this law is to promote financial autonomy and motivate SNAP beneficiaries to earn higher incomes. This is to remove households’ need for the program and encourage self-sufficiency. If you qualify as an ABAWD, it is important that you review your state’s policies before submitting your application. It will help you prepare the appropriate documentation and streamline the eligibility process. If you are a woman with a family and you qualify for SNAP, you may qualify for Women, Infants and Children program (WIC)

Note: Keep in mind that SNAP does not include the elderly in this category. As such, they do not need to meet the conditions listed below. Seniors are exempt from this policy and can qualify as long as they meet the other eligibility requirements.

Disqualifications from SNAP Eligibility

There are several reasons why petitioners may be rejected from the SNAP program. One of the biggest reasons why applicants are denied is because their total monthly income does not fall within the required limits.

The program targets low-income communities and as such, has strict income requirements to ensure those who most need nutritional assistance will receive it. Full-time college students may also be ineligible for food stamps if their college or university offers food assistance programs.

The program may also reject an applicant with a history of food stamp fraud. The program requires beneficiaries to follow strict rules regarding who can receive benefits and how to use them. Beneficiaries who violate these rules and/or attempt to defraud the program may be flagged in the system. This will lead to a temporary or permanent ban from the program.

Furthermore, applicants with drug felonies on their records do not qualify for SNAP benefits in certain states, such as West Virginia and South Carolina. Indiana previously had a lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for drug felons but recently lifted the ban, which will take effect in 2020. Some states require drug felons to complete drug tests and pass certain programs to qualify.