Food stamps are provided through a program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Roughly one in seven low-income households get food assistance through the program.
This is more relevant than ever when you consider that 49% of Americans are struggling with higher food prices, and half of the U.S. is expected to rack up more debt over the holidays.
While anyone can apply, food stamps are limited to people who are either U.S. citizens or legal residents.
If you need some assistance, please read on.
Food stamp qualifications
Rising inflation has raised concerns about household food costs, and SNAP benefits have gotten a funding boost in 2022. SNAP is distributed through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which can prevent families from shopping at specific stores and restricts the products that SNAP can purchase with the cards.
Income requirements for SNAP benefits
Eligibility is primarily based on household size and income.
Federal rules dictate that recipients must pass three tests:
- Gross monthly income: Household income must be at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), which is $2,379 per month for a family of three. The threshold is higher for families with more household members.
- Net income: This figure must not exceed the FPL once all deductions are calculated.
- Assets: Household assets must be worth no more than $2,500
Eligibility requirements for adults ages 60 and up and those with disabilities
According to federal rules, if you’re an adult over the age of 60 or have a disability, your household generally must meet two conditions:
- Your net income is less than or equal to the federal poverty line (FPL).
- Your assets amount to $3,750 or less.
Your net income is your gross income minus any allowable standard deductions. And assets are “countable resources” like cash, money in a bank account, and certain vehicles.
For the fiscal year 2022, which ended on Sept. 30, a two-member household with a net monthly income of $1,452 (100% of the federal poverty level) would qualify for SNAP.
Maximum food stamp allocations by state
For families of four living in the 48 contiguous U.S. states and the District of Columbia, the maximum allocation of monthly benefits is $835.
Exceptions: For families of four people living in Alaska, the maximum is $1,667. Families in Hawaii can receive a maximum of $1,573. In two U.S. territories, families in Guam can receive a maximum of $1,231, while those in the U.S. Virgin Islands can receive up to $1,074, the same as the minimum in Alaska.
Since March 2020, the federal government has approved an expansion of SNAP benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This expansion ensures that recipients of SNAP benefits automatically receive the maximum allotted value if their state meets specific criteria.
Key net-income deductions
The following items can help decrease your total net income and boost your chances of SNAP eligibility:
- Standard deduction: A standard deduction equals 20% of earnings for work-related expenses and payroll taxes.
- Dependent care deduction: Dependent care deduction accounts for out-of-pocket child care or other dependent care expenses necessary for a household member to work. To learn more, visit cbpp.org.
- Child support deduction: The child support deduction is for any legally mandated child support a household member must pay.
- Shelter deduction: A shelter deduction allows a household to deduct certain costs — monthly rent, utility allowances, and some repair costs — exceeding half of its net income. A SNAP household faces a cap on the total costs it can claim. In the fiscal year 2023, the “shelter cap” will be $624 unless the household has a member who has a disability or is 60 or older.
- Medical expense deduction: Many elderly Americans are reluctant to apply for SNAP benefits because they think they will only qualify for the minimum benefit amount, about $15. But that isn’t always the case. That’s because the excess medical expense deduction allows adults ages 60 and up and those with disabilities to apply for a higher benefit. Seniors and those with disabilities can deduct medical expenses that exceed $35 per month, allowing older adults to reduce their net monthly income and receive a more significant benefit.
- USDA pandemic emergency allocations: The USDA has granted waivers to several states to expand eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find a current list at usda.gov.
What counts as income?
- Earned income (before payroll taxes are deducted)
- Cash assistance
- Social Security
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Unemployment insurance
- Child support payments
READ MORE: Thinking about filing for bankruptcy? Here’s what you should know
What counts as an asset?
Usually, any resource would be available to pay for food. Assets include all bank accounts.
Items that don’t count include:
- Home equity
- Personal property
- Retirement savings
States can relax the asset limits, and many have done so.
If you qualify for Supplemental Security Income or SSI, you can find application information for SNAP benefits through your local Social Security office. In some states, an SSI application is also for SNAP if the applicant lives alone.
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Who is not eligible for SNAP benefits
Regardless of income or assets, the following are not eligible:
- Workers on strike
- Non-citizens or undocumented immigrants
- Students attending college, more than half-time
- Certain documented immigrants
Three-month rule: Unemployed non-disabled adults ages 18 to 49 without children or a disability are limited to three months of SNAP benefits every three years in many parts of the country. States have the authority to extend work requirements to other households.
SNAP application process
State agencies regulate SNAP benefits. You’ll need to contact your state office to apply and learn any state-specific income guidelines. The United States Department of Agriculture has compiled a list of guidelines for each state.
The amount of SNAP benefits you can get is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates how much it costs to buy food to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals for your household.
The following basic rules apply in most states, but a few have different laws.
READ MORE: Ways to find income when you’re in a pinch
To learn more about the food stamp program, check out this video:
Who uses food stamps?
Most of the people who receive them are white (41%), with a small percentage being Native Americans (2%). According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 55% of the households that use food stamps include children, and only 9% are for people over 60.
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The bottom line
Too many people today look at those who ask for help as a sign of weakness rather than strength. But it takes far more extraordinary courage to admit that you need help and support when life’s complications become too much than it does to go it alone.
CalFresh (formerly known as Food Stamps) is an entitlement program that provides monthly benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need to maintain adequate nutritional levels. Generally, these benefits are for any food or product intended for human consumption.
CalFresh is available to residents of California that meet one of the following:
–You have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $2,001, or
–You have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $3,001 and share your household with one of the following:a person or persons age 60 and over or
a person with a disability (a child, spouse, parent, or yourself).
If your household includes a person with a disability or over 60, your eligibility is based on net income.
TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The TANF program is time-limited and assists families with children when the parents or other responsible relatives cannot provide for the family’s basic needs.
To be determined eligible to receive TANF benefits, you must meet specific criteria which you can find at benefits.gov.
Asking for government help is one thing. Trying to manage your debt on top of it is another. It is possible to get assistance for this too. Whether aiming to become debt free, creating a budget, or talking to a credit counselor, learning how to save yourself is an important first step to improving your financial situation.