The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “Food Stamps,” is the US Government’s front-line program in the fight against hunger. SNAP provides low-income families with a monthly allowance that they can only spend on food, paid through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that functions like a debit card. The program serves over 45 million beneficiaries, 70% of which are families with children. SNAP is one of the most widely used government assistance programs and is one of the first places that low-income Americans turn to when faced with unmanageable financial pressure.
The application process is relatively straightforward, but it’s still a government program, and that means standards to meet, supporting documents to produce, questions to answer, and of course lots of forms to fill out. Don’t let this frustrate you; it’s just part of dealing with the government. Remember that the people administering the program do have to deal with people who fake data to get benefits or commit other kinds of fraud. Those frauds take money away from the people who do deserve help, so we all have to deal with the process that screens the deserving beneficiaries.
The application process can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re not used to dealing with government programs. Eligibility guidelines may be difficult to understand, and some families may not understand their benefits. We’ve prepared this guide to walk you through the process, explain the confusing points, and clarify the benefits.
Key resource links are at the end of this article.
Are You Eligible?
Before applying, you’ll want to get an idea of whether you are eligible. Your case worker will make the final decision, but the criteria are public, and you can use them to get an idea of how likely you are to succeed. Our eligibility guide identifies the key eligibility criteria and gives you a base for assessing your likelihood of approval.
Eligibility does NOT guarantee approval, but understanding it will give you a good idea of whether it’s worth continuing with the application process. Now is a perfect time to review the eligibility requirements, if you haven’t already.
Use the Screening Tool
The United States Department of Agriculture provides a free screening tool to help determine benefit eligibility. The tool allows you to punch in your data and calculate the information to give you an eligibility determination.
Before getting started with the tool, you will want to gather your household information. The requirements may vary from state to state, but usually include the following:
The number of people living in your household
Household financial information (This includes mortgage and bill payments, things such as rent, utilities, etc.)
Income details (Cash on hand or in a bank account, and income payments from work, SSI payments, VA benefits, unemployment benefits, etc.)
Childcare costs (Including daycare expenses and child support payments)
Government benefits you are receiving or have received
Medical information for yourself and those residing in your household
If you do not have the documents ready, you can continue reading the next parts of the tool and come back later after you have gathered the information. When you’re ready, you can access the SNAP Screening Tool through the link at the end of this article.
Once you have determined if you are eligible, the next step is the actual application process. We will take a systematic approach to this. Make sure you complete each step.
Contact your local SNAP office.
Follow directions to apply given to you by your local SNAP office. Many offices allow individuals to complete the application online. Some offices can mail you an application, or you can pick one up in person.
Gather your household financial information, your government benefit history, your medical information and all supportive material and documentation your state requires. Be thorough here, because gathering the documents you need in advance will save a lot of time and frustration later.
Begin the application process, which will vary from state to state.
Submit your application. Once your application is complete, you can submit it online, return it in person, or mail it in. If you are in a hurry, turn in your application in person for faster processing. No matter how you apply, the SNAP office will process your application within 30 days. Benefits begin on the date you submitted your application.
Attend an interview. Once your application is processed, you will have an interview. You will be required to document and verify certain parts of your application, including:
Proof of identity
Proof of residence
The Social Security numbers of everyone on your application
Proof of income
Name, age, and relationship of all household members
Proof of immigration status for all non-citizens
Proof of child support payments (if applicable)
Proof of medical expenses for those over 60 or older
Proof of childcare expenses (if applicable)
Once all the steps are complete, wait for notification of the result.
If the process starts to seem tedious and complicated, remember that over 44 million Americans just like you have completed it and are receiving food support every month!
For more on SNAP registration and application
Continue to part 2