How to Check Food Stamps Eligibility

The Food Stamps program provides nutrition assistance to nearly 40 million low-income American individuals and families. While 83 percent of people eligible for food stamps get benefits, only 59% of seniors who are eligible apply for benefits. In this post, we will show you how to check food stamps eligibility and determine if you qualify for benefits. You will learn about the income limit, resources test, residency and citizenship rules, and work requirements.

This post will provide information on the following topics:

  • Who Can Apply for Food Stamps
  • Why Food Stamps Are So Important
  • Food Stamps Eligibility Requirements
  • How Much You Could Receive In Food Stamps
  • Food Stamps Work Requirements
  • Documents You Need To Apply

"Food stamps eligibility guide"

Who Can Apply for Food Stamps?

The food stamps program helps people with limited income buy the food they need for good health. This includes individuals who:

  • Have a job but have low income
  • Are living on a small or fixed income
  • Have lost their job
  • Are retired or disabled and not able to work

Guardians who are not eligible for SNAP benefits themselves can apply on behalf of their children.

Permanent residents who have met the waiting period and certain categories of immigrants can also apply.

Why The Food Stamps Program is So Important

The food stamps program is a critical part of America’s fight against hunger and poverty.

The program is heavily focused on the poor, with 92 percent of benefits going to households with incomes at or below the poverty line.

The program is set up in such a way that individuals and families with the greatest need receive the most benefits.

In 2015, the Food stamps program lifted 4.6 million Americans above the poverty line, including 2 million children and 366,000 seniors.

The program also supports America’s economy and creates jobs. According to research from Moody’s Analytics, for every dollar spent by SNAP, 1.7 dollars are added to the economy.

In addition, a 2010 study by the USDA found that for every $1 billion in additional spending on the program, between 8,900 and 17,000 jobs were created.

Another study found that for every $1 billion in cuts to food stamps funding, 11,437 jobs would be destroyed.

Food Stamps Eligibility

To be eligible for the Food Stamp Program, you have to meet the eligibility requirements established by the USDA. Your household’s income and resources must meet three tests:

1. Gross Income Test

The first test you must meet is the gross monthly income test. This is a household’s income before any allowable deductions are applied.

The USDA requires that a household’s income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line.

In 2019, the poverty line amount for an individual is $1,012. Therefore for food stamps application, 130 percent of that level is $1,316. An individual applying for food stamps must, therefore, have a gross monthly income of $1,316 or below to qualify.

For a family of three, the poverty line is $1,732 a month. Therefore 130 percent of that is $2,252 a month, or about $27,000 a year.

2. Net Income Test

The Net Income, or household income after deductions are applied, must be at or below the poverty line.

Food Stamps Allowable Deductions

Certain deductions are allowable to be taken from the gross income to arrive at the net income amount.

The following deductions are allowed for all households depending on the living situation and expenses:

■ 20 percent of gross earned income.

■ Self-employment business expenses.

■ A standard deduction based on household size:

Standard Deduction

Household of 1-3 persons – $160

Household of 4 persons – $170

Household of 5 persons – $199

Household of 6 or more persons – $228
■  A child care or disabled adult care deduction if you are working, looking for work, or in school or training.

■ Child support paid to children outside the home (including payments for health insurance, child support arrearages, payments made to third parties for rent or mortgage)

■ A shelter deduction capped at $535/month for households that do not include an elderly or disabled member. For households with an elderly or disabled member, the shelter deduction is un-capped.

■ A homeless shelter deduction of $143/month if a homeless with no shelter costs.

The result is your monthly net income. Your benefits are based on this amount. An additional medical expense deduction is available to elderly and disabled households.

How to Calculate Net Income

The table below shows an example of net income calculations based on a $2,050 gross income, after allowable deductions.

"food stamps calculator"

What Counts As Income?
For your food stamps application, cash from all sources will count towards your income limit including:

  • Earned income (before payroll taxes are deducted)
  • Unearned income, such as cash assistance, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and child support are all counted towards your income for food stamps purposes.

Food Stamps Income Limit

The table below shows the gross income and net income cut-offs for food stamps application purposes:

"food stamps income chart"

3. Resources Test

The final test is the resources test. A household may have $2,250 in countable resources, or $3,500 in countable resources if at least one person is age 60 or older, or is disabled.

What Counts as Resources?
For your application, resources that could be available to the household to purchase food are counted towards your limit.

This includes:

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Real estate other than your home
  • Income you earn from assets (like interest earned on savings and dividends you receive).

items you own that are not accessible, such as the household’s home, personal property, and retirement savings, will not count towards your resources limit.

In addition, the resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the resources of people who receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and most retirement (pension) plans are not counted.

Most vehicles do not count. However, that depends on the state you live in. A number of States exclude the entire value of the household’s primary vehicle as an asset.

Currently, 32 States exclude the value of all vehicles entirely.

How Much In Food Stamps Will I Receive

The table below shows the maximum amount you could receive depending on the number of people in your household.

"how much will I get in food stamps"

Residency Requirement

To apply for food stamps, you must apply in your state of residency.

Citizenship Requirement

Only United States Citizens and certain categories of lawfully admitted non-citizens can apply for food stamps. If you are a non-citizen, see our detailed article on the topic here.

Documents You Need to Apply

Here are the documents you will need to apply for food stamps:

  • Proof of Identity
  • Proof of State Residency
  • Proof of Income
  • Proof of Expenses
  • Proof of Disability (if Applicable).
  • Proof of Alien or Citizenship Status

For proof of citizenship, you will need to present one of the following documents:

  • Birth certificate
  • Military service records
  • US Passport
  • Naturalization Certificate
  • Permanent resident card/Green card

What Happens After You Apply

After you apply for food stamps, you must complete an interview with a representative of the Department that runs the program in your state.

Some states allow for a phone interview. In other states, the interview is face-to-face.

If you are elderly or physically unable to travel for a face-to-face interview, you can apply for a waiver, which is granted on a case by case basis based on hardship.

If your waiver request is granted, the face-to-face interview will be replaced with a phone interview.

During the interview, and you will be required to provide verification of your income and expenses.

If your application is approved, you will start receiving benefits no later than 30 days from the date you submit your application.

Do You Need Benefits Sooner?

You may get emergency food stamp benefits within 7 calendar days if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • you have less than $150 in monthly gross income and no more than $100 in liquid resources;
  • you have shelter costs that are higher than your gross income and liquid resources, or
  • you are a seasonal migrant worker and destitute.

How Long Can I Be on Food Stamps?

There are no limits to how long you can get food stamps if you have children/dependents living in your household or are under age 18 or over age 50.

However, If you are a single, able-bodied adult without dependents in your home, you can only receive food stamps for 3 months in a 36-month period.

Food Stamps Work Requirements

If you Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) – meaning you are an individual age 18 through 49 who do not live with a child under 18 and who is fit for work – then you must comply with the work requirements to continue to receive food stamps.

The rules state that ABAWDs can only get food stamp benefits for 3 months in 3 years unless they meet certain special work requirements or are excused.

However, there are exceptions to the 3-month limit. If you are an ABAWD, you may be exempted from the time limit work requirements if you:

  • Work an average of at least 20 hours per week each month in unsubsidized
    employment; or
  • Participate 20 hours per week in an approved employment and training program; or
  • Participate in community service by volunteering at a nonprofit organization.

You may be exempt from meeting work requirements if you meet any of the following
federal criteria:

  • Are physically or mentally unable to work 20 hours a week.
  • Receive Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance due to disability or blindness, or receives Supplemental Security Income or State Disability Assistance.
  • Receive or are an applicant for unemployment benefits.
  • Participate in a drug or alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program.
  • Attend training or college at least half-time and meet the student eligibility criteria to receive food assistance.
  • Care for an incapacitated person or a child under age 6.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Are a victim of domestic violence.
  • Reside in a household with a child under age 18.

Apply for Food Stamps

If you qualify for benefits, we can help you apply for food stamps. We have provided detailed application instructions by state. Click here to find specific information for your state.

If you have any questions about food stamps eligibility or how to apply for benefits in your state, let us know in the comments section below.