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Food Stamps Questions [FAQs]

Last updated on 08/31/20

We usually get hundreds of emails each month from our readers about various topics regarding food stamps and EBT. We decided to set up this FAQ page to address the most common Food Stamps Questions we get.

More questions will be added as and when we receive reader feedback.

"Food Stamps Questions and Answers"

Food Stamps Questions (FAQs)

Here are the most frequently asked food stamps questions:

Applying for Food Stamps

What is SNAP (Food Stamps)?

SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food

SNAP helps low-income people and families buy the food they need for good
health. You apply for benefits by completing a State application form.

Benefits are provided on an electronic card that is used like an ATM card and accepted at most grocery stores.

Are SNAP benefits considered welfare?

No. SNAP is a nutrition assistance program. It helps low-income people buy nutritious food. It is not welfare. Here are the states with the most people on food stamps.

How Do I Apply for Food Stamps?

You have to apply for food stamps in your state of residence if you are eligible.

Click here to get details on how to apply for food stamps in your state.

Most states provide the following four ways to apply for food stamps:

Option 1. At your local food stamps office.
Option 2. By calling your state food stamps office or local food stamps office.
Option 3. Online – Almost all states provide an option to apply for food stamps online.
Option 4. Via email – You can email your state’s food stamps office to send you an electronic application, which you can fill out and drop off at your local SNAP office.

If you can’t apply on your own, you may have another person apply on your behalf. You’ll need to name that person as your authorized representative in writing.

What do I have to provide when I apply?

You may need to provide the following documentation to apply for food stamps:

  • Proof of Identity (photo ID, birth certificate, Social Security card)
  • Social Security numbers for all household members
  • Birth certificates for all children in the household
  • Proof of shelter expenses (rent receipt, lease or mortgage)
  • Documents that can show your utility expenses (e.g., National Grid bill)
  • Proof of income (child support letter, SS benefits statement, pay stubs, SSI award letters, etc.)
  • Bank statement(s)
  • Medical bills (if you are disabled and/or senior)
  • Child care expenses

Not everyone will need all of these documents, and not all of the listed documents are relevant to all applicants.

Your caseworker will be able to tell you the specific documents you need based on your circumstances.

How Much Money Can I Make and Still Get Food Stamps?

In most cases, your household must meet both the gross and net income limits described below or you are not eligible for SNAP and cannot receive benefits.

Gross income means a household’s total, non-excluded income, before any deductions have been made.

Net income means gross income minus allowable deductions.

A household with an elderly or disabled person only has to meet the net income limit.

Household Size Gross monthly income
(130 percent of poverty)
Net monthly income
(100 percent of poverty)
1 $1,354 $1,041
2 $1,832 $1,410
3 $2,311 $1,778
4 $2,790 $2,146
5 $3,269 $2,515
6 $3,748 $2,883
7 $4,227 $3,251
8 $4,705 $3,620
Each additional member +$479 +$369

Food stamps income limits are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.

What is the resource limit for SNAP?

Yes, your household may have up to $2250 in resources and still qualify for food stamps.

Households that have an elderly or disabled member may have up to $3250.

In addition, some assets like your home and car do not count if the car(s) are used for household transportation.

Other personal things like clothes, jewelry, furniture, and household goods also do not count.

Who must be included in a SNAP Application?

Certain persons living together must be included and are considered in a mandatory

This includes married persons, children under age 22 who live with their parent(s)
and persons who prepare meals together.

Other persons may not receive benefits such as ineligible aliens, students who do not meet certain criteria, persons who have previously been convicted of food stamps fraud.

What Happens After I Apply?

In most cases, once you submit your application, your State agency or local Food Stamps office will process your application and send you a notice telling you whether or not you are eligible for benefits within 30 days.

During the 30 days, you will need to complete an eligibility interview and provide verification of the information you submitted during the application.

The interview is typically completed over the telephone or in-person.

Prior to the meeting, you will be given or mailed a form listing all the needed information with a due date.

It is your responsibility to make sure your caseworker receives this information on or before that date.

Failure to send in the requested information by the due date will lead to a delay or even cancelation of your application.

If you are approved for benefits, the start date for your benefits will be the date you submitted your application.

What happens at the Food Stamps interview appointment?

The purpose of the food stamps interview is to allow your caseworker to review your application and supporting documentation and determine your eligibility for benefits.

He/she will ask you questions about your household composition, income, resources, and other information needed to determine your eligibility for SNAP.

Here’s a list of what typically happens at the food stamps interview appointment.

Your caseworker will:

    • Screen you for expedited (emergency) benefits that should be issued within 7 days (if you qualify)
    • Confirm the information you gave on your application and any information the food stamps office gets through government databases.
    • Review the documents you sent in and tell you what proofs or verifications they need and when they are due.
    • Issue you an EBT card if don’t have one – either by mail or in person at the food stamps office – and tell you how to use the EBT card.
    • Review food stamps work requirements, the exemptions, and if you or a household member is subject to the ABAWD 3 month time limit.
    • Tell you how long your benefits are certified for, what changes you need to report to the food stamps office, and when you need to send back an Interim Report or a Recertification form.
    • Answer any questions you have and offer to help if you need help getting verifications or contacting a third party for information.
    • Explain your rights and responsibilities, as well as the penalties for committing fraud or for other program rules.

In some cases, your caseworker may be able to tell you at the interview if you are approved for benefits.

However, in most cases, you will be mailed a notice regarding your eligibility after your interview. The notice lists your appeal rights if you do not agree with the decision.

What if I need Food Stamps Right Away?

If you need food assistance sooner, you may qualify for emergency food stamps. 

If you have little or no income and resources, your food stamps application may be reviewed by your caseworker to see if you qualify for emergency food stamps. 

You may be eligible for Emergency food stamps if any of the following apply to you:below:

  • you have earned or received less than $150 for the month and you have $100 or less in cash and savings; or 
  • the cost of your rent or mortgage plus utilities is more than your gross monthly income plus your cash and savings; or 
  • you are a migrant household with $100 or less in cash and savings.

If your local food stamps office determines that you meet the criteria for emergency food stamps, your application will be expedited.

A decision on your emergency food stamps will be made within 7 days from the date you turn in your application. 

Can you get food stamps if you get unemployment?

Yes, people who get unemployment may still qualify for food stamps.

I am homeless. Can I apply for food stamps?

Yes. A permanent address is not required to apply for food stamps.

You can get benefits whether you live on the street, are staying in a shelter, or are living with family or friends on a temporary basis.

Homeless individuals and families who do not have regular shelter expenses can claim an automatic deduction from their income.

Can you get food stamps if you get SSI, disability or disability-related Medicaid?

Yes, and if you get the SNAP benefits it will not affect the other benefits.

Can I get SNAP benefits if I have a felony drug conviction?

There is a federal law that states anyone with a drug conviction after 8/22/1996 is ineligible to receive SNAP benefits indefinitely.

It is possible for state legislatures to override this federal law. Check with your state’s food stamps agency to see if your state has overridden this law.

Can college students get SNAP?

Most able-bodied students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled at least half-time in college or other institutions of higher education are not eligible for SNAP.

However, students may be able to get SNAP, if otherwise eligible, if they:

  • Receive public assistance benefits under a Title IV-A program; or
  • Take part in a state or federally-financed work-study program; or
  • Work on average 20 hours per week; or
  • Are a single parent enrolled full time and taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 12.

Students also may be able to get SNAP, if otherwise eligible,

  • if they are taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 6, or
  • if they are taking care of a dependent household member age 6 through 11 and do not have adequate child care to enable them to work a minimum of 20 hours per week, or
  • take part in a state or federally-financed work-study program while attending school.

Students who are assigned to or placed in college or certain other schools as part of certain job or employment training programs may also be eligible for SNAP.

As a non-citizen, can I get SNAP benefits?

Many non-citizens may be eligible for SNAP benefits if they are one of the following:

  • Refugees, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, Asylees, Amerasian immigrants, individuals with deportation or removal withheld, Hmong or Highland Laotians, victims of human trafficking, parolees for at least one year, conditional entrants, North American Indians born in Canada and members of federally recognized tribes;
  • Honorably discharged U.S. veteran, the spouse, and unmarried dependent children;
  • Aliens on active duty in the U.S. military service, the spouse and unmarried dependent children;
  • Aliens paroled into the U.S. for at least one year;
  • Certain battered immigrants and their children or parents; and
  • Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) in the U.S. for 5 years
  • LPR with certain disability benefits
  • Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) with 40 qualifying quarters
  • LPR under age 18

How Will I receive Food Stamps?

If you are approved for Food Stamps, you will receive your benefits on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card.

Your benefits are automatically loaded into your account each month. You can use your EBT card to eligible foods at authorized food stores and retailers.

How long will I receive Food Stamps?

After you are approved for food stamps, you will receive a notice that tells you how long you will receive benefits. This is called your certification period.

Before your certification period ends, you will receive another notice that says you must recertify to continue receiving benefits.

Your local Food Stamps office will provide you with information about how to recertify.

How Much Food Stamps Will I Recieve?

The dollar amount of benefits your household receives depends on the number of people in your household and your monthly net income.

It is based on a table determined by the USDA.

Below is the table showing how much food stamps you could receive if you are approved for benefits. The table is based on the number of people in a household.

Food Stamps Maximum Monthly Allotment Based on Household Size

People in Household Maximum Monthly Allotment
1 $194
2 $355
3 $509
4 $646
5 $768
6 $921
7 $1,018
8 $1,164
Each additional person +$146

Benefit amounts are different in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What If My Application is Denied?

If your application for food stamps is denied and you disagree with the decision, you can request a hearing with an official who will review the facts of your case in a fair and objective manner.

You are entitled to a written notice if your application is denied, or the food stamp office proposes to reduce or stop your benefits. The notice must tell you:

  • the reason for the denial or the proposed change;
  • when the proposed change will take place;
  • your right to ask for a hearing; and
  • where you can get free legal help.

If you disagree with the denial or the proposed change, you must appeal within 90 days of the written notice.

Current food stamps recipients have 10 days to appeal a decision in order to continue getting them during the appeal.

If you continue to receive food stamps during your appeal and you lose your appeal, the welfare office may require you to “repay” the food stamps by lowering any future food stamp grants.

Either before or during your appeal, you should try to work out the problem with your caseworker. If you cannot, the next step is a hearing.

Your hearing may be held over the telephone or, if you request it, in person. There are some advantages to having a hearing in person. In either case, you have the right to:

  • look at your file before or during the hearing;
  • tell your side of the story to an impartial hearing officer;
  • bring witnesses and papers to support your case;
  • ask questions of anyone testifying at the hearing;
  • be represented by a lawyer or other advocate;
  •  get a written decision based only on the evidence presented at the hearing.

What are the Penalties for Lying SNAP Application?

The food stamps program is intended to help low-income individuals and families who qualify. 

When you apply for SNAP benefits, you are expected to provide correct information about your household income and resources. 

When you are approved for food stamps, you are expected to use your benefits as intended and purchase approved food items from approved stores

You could lose your food stamp benefits and face and prosecution in court if you engage in any of the following violations of the food stamps program:

  • Sell or to sell or trade SNAP benefits
  • Buy ineligible items such as alcoholic drinks, or tobacco
  • Pay on credit accounts or gives away or sells an EBT card

For a detailed post on food stamps fraud and the consequences for committing fraud, see our Food stamps fraud guide.

What is a “Disability” under Food Stamps?

A disability does not have to be life-threatening. For SNAP, you are considered disabled
if you meet one of the following criteria:

• You receive Federal disability or blindness payments under the Social Security Act,
including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security disability or
blindness payments
• You receive State disability or blindness payments based on SSI rules
• You receive a disability retirement benefit from a governmental agency because of a
disability considered permanent under the Social Security Act
• You receive an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act and are eligible for
Medicare or are considered to be disabled based on the SSI rules
• You are a veteran who is totally disabled, permanently housebound, or in need of
regular aid and attendance
Page 4 of 5
• You are a surviving spouse or child of a veteran who is receiving VA benefits and is
considered to be permanently disabled.

Using Food Stamps

Isn’t it embarrassing to use the EBT card instead of money at a store?

The EBT card looks and works like any other bank debit card, making it hard for people to tell what you are using a food stamps card to pay for your food.

What can I buy with Food Stamps?

As a general rule, you can use SNAP food stamps to buy any food item except food that is hot when sold, or food that is sold to be eaten in the store like restaurant food.

Eligible food items include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • meats, fish, poultry
  • deli meats and steak
  • dairy products
  • breads
  • cereals
  • seeds and plants that produce food for the household
  • soft drinks
  • candy
  • cookies
  • snack crackers
  • ice cream
  • energy drinks (must have a nutrition label)
  • live seafood, such as lobster, fish, and shellfish
  • pumpkins (as long as they are edible)
  • birthday cakes (the non-edible piece of the cake cannot exceed 50 percent)
  • bakery items

You can also use your EBT card to buy seeds or plants that you intend to grow to produce food for your household consumption.

There are certain items you CANNOT buy with the EBT card, including:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • tobacco products
  • hot food (prepared for immediate consumption)
  • Nonfood items
  • pet foods
  • soaps
  • paper products
  • medicines and vitamins
  • household supplies
  • grooming items
  • cosmetics

It is important that you pay close attention to this list, as violating the rules or conspiring with another person to violate any of the rules constitutes Food Stamp Fraud.

Food stamps fraud could land you in big trouble with the government, including possible jail time.

What is food stamps overpayment?

A food stamps overpayment is when your state’s food stamps agency pays you benefits that you were not eligible for.

You will still have to repay an overpayment, even if the state food stamps agency is at fault or because you accidentally overlooked some information.

You may need to pay back the full amount of the overpayment. If you still get food stamps, it will come out of your future benefits.

If you intentionally lied about important information, you could be disqualified from getting food stamps. You will also have to pay back any overpayment.

If you are no longer on SNAP, then you will have to pay back the overpayment in another way. For example, cash, or your tax return, or another payment plan.

What happens if my income changes?

If your income increases while you are getting food stamps, you must report the change to your caseworker. Your benefits can be reduced if your income goes over a certain level.

To protect yourself being charged for food stamps benefits overpayment (which you may have to pay back), you should report any increase in income to your caseworker as soon as possible.

Does receiving Food Stamps affect my taxes?

No. Food Stamps benefits are not considered income and therefore do not impact your tax returns.

What are some common misconceptions or myths about Food Stamps?

There are several common misconceptions about how the food stamps program works and who receives the benefits. Here are a few:

Many Americans believe that the majority of food stamps benefits go towards people who could be working. In fact, more than half of food stamps recipients are children or the elderly.

In addition, for the remaining working-age individuals receiving food stamps, many of them are currently employed.

At least forty percent of all food stamps beneficiaries live in a household with earnings.

Another myth is that food stamps beneficiaries also receive cash benefits (welfare or TANF). However, the data shows otherwise.

In fact, only 6.5% of food stamps households receive cash welfare, with increasing numbers of food stamps beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.

EBT Card

Can you use EBT Card to buy Non-Food Items?

SNAP benefits loaded on an EBT card can only be used to purchase food.

However, some people have an EBT card for their TANF (cash assistance) benefits. You can use TANF EBT cards to purchase food and non-food items.

Food Stamps Facts and Data

For more detailed facts and data about the food stamps program, see our food stamps facts page.

How many people use Food Stamps in the United States?

As of September 2019, 36 million persons were participating in the food stamps program.

What is the average food stamps benefit?

In 2019, the average food stamps beneficiary received a monthly benefit of $131.

What percent of the people who are eligible participate in the food stamps program?

The food stamps participation rate among all eligible persons was 85 percent in Fiscal Year 2016.

Participation rates for all eligible persons varied from state to state, ranging from a low of 56 percent to a high of 100 percent.

How much Does the Food Stamps Program Cost?

In 2018, the federal government spent $68 billion on food stamps program and other related food assistance programs. Here’s the breakdown of how the money was spent:

  • 92% of the spending went directly to benefits that households used to purchase food
  • 7% went to state administrative costs, including eligibility determinations, employment and training and nutrition education for SNAP households, and anti-fraud activities.
  • Less than 1 percent went to federal administrative costs.

Food Stamps FAQ Summary

We hope this post about Food Stamps Questions and Answers was helpful to you. If you have questions about food stamps or EBT, please let us know in the comments section below.

If you are a Food Stamps recipient, be sure to check out the amazing Discounts and Perks that your EBT card can get you, including a 50% off Amazon Prime Discount, FREE or Discounted Cell Phone or Home Phone Service, and states with the highest food stamps recipients

Kwame Kuadey

Kwame Kuadey writes about personal finance and the social safety net. His career started in banking but he caught the entrepreneurial bug and has spent the last decade building successful businesses, including an Inc. 500 Company. Kwame believes everyone has the power to improve their quality of life by seeking knowledge and taking action. In 2012, Kwame founded Empower Media to help low-income households improve their financial situation. His expertise is in topics relevant to low-income households, including government benefits and assistance, banking products, access to credit, plus tools & resources to help reduce income volatility and build wealth. Kwame has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Washington Post, ABC, and NPR.



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