SNAP Program Overview

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded program to provide food assistance to low-income individuals and families. SNAP is funded by the federal government and administered through the states. Many states also work with other local agencies to provide ongoing nutritional education and training to SNAP recipients.

You can apply for SNAP online in most states or at a local state or county office. Once the initial application is filled out, you will follow up with a face-to-face interview, and you will be required to provide verification of your income and expenses. If you are elderly or physically unable to travel to the office for the interview, you can apply for a waiver. If granted, the face-to-face interview will be replaced with a phone interview or home visit.

When applying for SNAP, they look at the income, resources, and size of the household. For this situation, a household is defined by people that live together and purchase and prepare food together. When looking at income and resources, it is the total of all members of the household, not just the head of household.

Food Stamps Eligibility

To be eligible, you cannot have more than $2,250 in resources. This amount is increased to $3,250 if at least one member of your household is over the age of 60. Some states consider vehicles resources, but the rules concerning vehicles vary by state.

To be eligible, the total household income must also be below a certain amount based on the number of people in the household. The maximum gross monthly income is 130% of the federal poverty level, and the maximum net monthly income is 100% of the federal poverty level. The net income is determined by subtracting all acceptable deductions from your gross income.

There are also employment requirements, which include not intentionally leaving a job or reducing hours to qualify, being registered to work, taking a job if offered, and participating in state-run employment and training programs.

Additionally, recipients deemed to be Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs) are limited to 3 months of benefits over the course of 36 months unless they prove they are working or participating in education or training activities at least 80 hour per month, or participating in a workforce program.

There are exceptions to the employment requirements. These include those that are elderly, disabled, pregnant, or under the age of 18. ABAWDs can also apply for an exception if their benefits run out, but they are still under employed or unemployed.

There are also requirements concerning citizenship status. Non-citizens can apply for SNAP benefits if they are lawfully admitted for permanent residence, asylees, parolees, deportation withhold status, conditional entrants, Cuban or Haitian entrants, battered non-citizens, refugees, trafficking victims, Iraqi or Afghan special immigrants, Hmong or Highland Laotian tribal members, or certain American Indians born abroad.

Maximum Monthly Amounts on Food Stamps

There is a maximum monthly allotment based on the size of the household. When determining your benefit allotment, they will take your net monthly income and multiply it by 30%. That number will then be subtracted from the maximum monthly allotment. The remaining amount is the total monthly allotment you will receive based on your application. This amount may change if your income or household size changes.

SNAP benefits are a specific money amount provided to recipients each month to go towards nutritional foods. Recipients are provided with an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, and money is added to the card each month. You can check your balance by phone, and any unused funds at the end of the month remain on the card to be used to following month. Once allocated, benefits will not expire.

Benefits can be used to buy food and drinks at most grocery stores, convenient stores, gas stations, pharmacies that sell food, and farmer’s markets. Benefits cannot be used to buy alcohol, tobacco, medicine, hot food, food meant to be eaten in the store, or any non-food items.

Can I Get Food Stamps if I am on the GI Bill?

Military veterans and others who are taking advantage of the GI Bill program are sometimes curious if GI Bill money or BAH income is counted towards the income requirements for SNAP. The answer is yes, BAH income is typically counted towards your gross income when determining if you are eligible for food stamps. As such, your GI Bill benefits do contribute to your income, even though that income is temporary and not taxed. Receiving BAH does not stop you from being eligible for food stamps outright, it is just included in the income calculation.

SNAP Overview

The federal food stamp program is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is the largest domestic program available to nutritional assistance, and it is available for low-income individuals and families that meet the eligibility requirements. The federal food and nutrition service works with a wide range of other organizations including state agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood organizations to provide SNAP recipients with nutrition assistance and information.

The local agencies provide aid for people while they are going through the application process, and once people are approved, these agencies help them to access their benefits. The goal of this program is to provide monetary assistance with food while the members of the household are actively looking for work or working in positions that do not pay enough to cover food and living costs.


Households are expected to spend approximately 30% of their net income on food each month. For that reason, benefit amounts, called allotments, are figured by taking the net income of the household and multiplying it by 0.3. That number is then subtracted from the maximum allotment allowed based on the size of the household.

Example of Benefits Allotment

Family of 7

Net monthly Income = $2100

$2100 x 0.3 = $630

Maximum allotment for a family of 7 = $1022

$1022 - $630 = $392

SNAP monthly allotment = $392

The following table, shows the maximum monthly allotment allowed based on the size of the household.

People in the household
Maximum Monthly Allotment
Each additional person

Benefits are provided starting the day your application is submitted, so once you are approved, you will received the total amount you would have received from day one. As long as you continue to meet the eligibility requirements for SNAP, there is no limit to how long you can receive benefits. If you do not use your total benefit allotment within a month, the remaining balance will roll over to the next month. At no point will you lose money that has already been transferred to your EBT card.

Approved Purchases

SNAP is designed to provide food assistance, so most food and beverage purchases are acceptable. SNAP is accepted at most grocery stores, convenient stores, and drug stores that sell foods as well as many gas stations and farmers’ markets. SNAP can be used to purchase breads, cereals, fruits and veggies, meats, and dairy products.

SNAP cannot be used to pay for any type of alcohol or tobacco products, vitamins and medicines, hot foods, and foods that will be eaten in the store. The last two items include things like sandwich shops or pizza stands within stores, coffee shops, and fast food or restaurants.

How Do I apply for SNAP?

There are several options for applying. Only one member of the households needs to apply for the total household, but everyone living in the household needs to be included on the application along with their income. Most states provide an online application to start the process. See the States website section for a link to your state’s website. If your state does not provide an online application or you do not have access to a computer, you can go to your local state or county office to apply.

As part of the application process, you will need to go to your local state or county office for a face-to-face interview. If you are not able to go to the local office or apply online, you can designate an authorized representative. This is someone you give authority to represent you. You have to designate the person in writing to be official. This person can be a friend or relative.

The entire process generally involves filling out an application, going in for a face-to-face interview, and providing verifications for needed information such as income, residency, and expenses. If because of age or disability, an applicant is unable to go to the office and cannot appoint a representative, the interview may be waived at the discretion of the local office. However, if the interview is waived, the applicant will have to have a phone interview or consent to a home visit instead.

Definition of a Household

When determining eligibility, you need to provide information on all members of the household. A household, for this situation, is defined as all individuals that live together and purchase and prepare meals together. Likewise, you may have people living with you that are not considered part of your household. For example, if you rent a room to someone that does not purchase or prepare food with you, they are not part of your household. However, whatever they pay you for rent has to be counted under income.

There are two exceptions to this definition. The first is a household that includes a husband, wife, and children under 22 years of age. This group will be considered a household even if they purchase and prepare meals separately. The second exception is elderly or disabled individuals that are unable to purchase and prepare their meals independently and live with others that do.

Being Approved for Benefits

When you are found eligible for SNAP benefits, you will receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. Your benefits are automatically loaded onto the card each month. The card will work like a debit card with funds deducted from the account with each purchase. The card can only be used at stores that are approved to accept them.


Generally speaking, SNAP is for low-income individuals and families. However, there are other factors taken into consideration when determining eligibility. State agency determine eligibility based on guidelines set by the federal program.


Resources may include money held in bank accounts or retirement plans, or vehicles. Eligibility requirements do not count resources received through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Additionally, the family home and lot are not counted as resources, so you can be a home owners and still qualify for SNAP.

Bank accounts and retirement plans. A household can have up to $2,250 in savings and still be eligible for SNAP. If the household includes at least one individual over the age of 60, that amounts goes up to $3,250. Some retirement plans may also be considered as resources, but that varies by state.

Vehicles. Each state has the ability to determine if and how vehicles are counted under resources. States may decide to exclude all or some of the family owned vehicles, or they may choose a maximum market value an applicant can have in vehicles. 33 states exclude all vehicles from the resource qualification. 15 states exclude the value of one car, while the fair market value of additional cars is counted towards the total resources. Check the state Section of this guide for rules regarding vehicles as resources.


The SNAP program has eligibility standards for both gross and net monthly income. Most people will need to fit within both the gross and net income guidelines in order to be eligible. Exceptions to this include the elderly. For households including at least one person over the age of 60, only the net income standard is applied. Another exception is those receiving TANF and SSI.

The table below shows the maximum gross and net monthly income based on family size for SNAP eligibility. The gross income is the income you make prior to any deductions. Net income is after deductions. The only exceptions to the chart below are Alaska and Hawaii, which have higher income limits due to the significant increase in cost of living.

Household Size
Gross monthly income 130% FPL
Net monthly income 100% FPL
Each additional member


There are seven allowable deductions that you can consider when determining your net pay. To figure out your net income, you have to figure out which allowable deductions apply to your situations and deduct them from your gross income. The difference is your net income.

  • 20% deduction from earned income.
  • $155 for households of 1 to 3 people, and $168 for households of 4 or more people. This is a standard deduction that all applicants can take advantage of.
  • A child or dependent care deduction if that care is needed in order to work, go to school, or attend required training. This dependent care covers children, elderly, and disabled. It does not cover animal care.
  • Approved medical expenses for elderly or disabled members of the household. In order for a medical expense to be approved, it has to be over $35 and not covered by insurance. Most office visit co-pays are not deductible.
  • Legally owed child support payments.
  • Shelter costs for homeless households. Not all states offer this, so it is important to let your caseworker know if you are homeless when applying.
  • Allowable shelter costs that are more than half the household’s income after the other deductions are subtracted. Allowable costs include rent or mortgage payment, electricity, water, house or property taxes, fuel for heating, and the basic fee for one phone line. The total amount of this deduction cannot exceed $504. The exception to that being is there is an elderly or disabled member of the household. This limit is also higher in Hawaii and Alaska.

Each state outlines employment requirements as part of SNAP eligibility. These requirements include:

  • Registering for work - some states will require you to provide proof that you are actively applying for work on a weekly basis.
  • Not voluntarily quitting your job – If you are unemployed, you need to prove that it was not your choice.
  • Not purposely reducing your hours – If your hours are cut making you income eligible, you will need to prove that the cut in hours was beyond your control.
  • Taking a job if offered
  • Participating in state-offered employment and training programs.

SNAP benefits will be discontinued if any of these employment requirements are not followed. There are people exempt from the employment requirements. This includes children, seniors, pregnant women, and individuals that are exempt from working for health reasons.

Employment requirements apply to applicants determined to be Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs). Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, ABAWDs are limited to 3 months of SNAP benefits over a 36-month period unless they are doing at least one of the following:

  • Working at least 80 hours per month
  • Completing qualifying education and/or training activities at least 80 hours a month
  • Complying with a workfare program

Many states put ABAWDs in their SNAP Employment and Training Program in order to meet their work requirement and maintain benefits while learning skills to find gainful employment. In order to be excused from the ABAWD benefit limit, you need to be either under the age of 18 or over the age of 50, have dependents that require daily care, be deemed physically or mentally unable to work, or be pregnant.

States are also allowed to waive the ABAWD benefit limits if they can demonstrate that their overall unemployment rate is above 10% and there is a lack of sufficient jobs. States also have limited power to provide exemptions. States can provide exemptions equal to 15% of their total caseload of ABAWDs that are ineligible due to the benefit limit. That means for over 100 applicants that ran out of time and lost benefits, the state can provide 15 exemptions. Each exemption is 1 extra month of benefits for 1 recipient.

Elderly & Disabled

It has been mentioned in the above eligibility requirements that households containing an elderly or disabled individual are held to different requirements. This includes increased limits for both income and resources. In order to fall under the special eligibility requirements, the following definitions are used.


  • Someone that is 60 years old or older.


  • Receives benefits through SSI, social security disability, or blindness payments.
  • Receives disability or blindness payments through a state program that follows the rules of SSI.
  • Receives disability retirement benefits through a government agency due to a disability that is deemed permanent according to the Social Security Act.
  • Eligible for Medicare or disabled according to SSI rules and receives annuity payments under the Railroad Retirement Act.
  •  A veteran who is disabled, homebound, or in need of consistent aid.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who is considered permanently disabled and receiving VA benefits.

SNAP eligibility is extended to many non-citizens based on their immigration status. In order to be eligible for SNAP, you must fit in one of the following “qualified alien” categories.

  • Lawfully admitted for permanent residence - These are people with green cards
  • Asylees – These are people granted asylum in the US under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Parolees – These are people paroled into the US for at least 1 year.
  • Deportation Withheld – These people had their deportation withheld under the INA
  • Conditional Entrants – Individuals granted conditional entry into the country
  • Cuban or Haitian Entrants – They are qualified under the Refuge Education Assistance Act of 1980
  • Battered Non-Citizens – a battered non-citizen spouse or child, non-citizen parent of a battered child, or a non-citizen child of a battered parent
  • Refugees – Refugees allowed in the US under the INA
  • Trafficking Victims – Victims that are protected under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
  • Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants – Special status can be granted to Iraqi or Afghan nationals that worked on behalf of the US in either Iraq or Afghanistan
  • Certain American Indians born abroad – American Indians that belong to a federally recognized tribe, were born in the Canada, but live in the US
  • Hmong or Highland Laotian tribal members – members of these groups that worked on behalf of the US during the Vietnam war

In order for non-citizens to be eligible for SNAP, they must fit into one of the above categories as well as meet one of the following conditions.

  • Live in the US for at least five years
  • An LPR with credit for 40 qualifying work quarters
  • Children under the age of 18
  • Receiving benefits for being either blind or disabled
  • Born on or before August 22nd 1931
  • Have a military connection

There are exceptions to these conditions, but those are determined individually. Generally speaking, refugees, victims of severe trafficking, Iraqi and afghan special immigrants, and Cuban and Haitian immigrants are eligible without meeting one of the above stated conditions.

What non-citizen groups are ineligible for SNAP based on their citizenship status? There are five groups that are considered ineligible.

  • Individuals that are in the US in a non-qualified status including students and those with an H-1B Visa.
  • Undocumented non-citizens. These are immigrants that entered the country without a visa or stayed beyond the limits of their visa.
  • Individuals in the US under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to armed conflict or natural disasters in their home countries.
  • People from nations under the Compact of Free Association Agreements, which includes citizens of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.
  • Most people that are in the US with a U Visa.

Even if there are ineligible non-citizens living in a household, the rest of the household may still be eligible if they meet the eligibility requirements.


Excludes the value of all vehicles owned by the household


Excludes the value of only the vehicle needed for transportation to meet basic needs. All other vehicles are subject to federal SNAP rules


Excludes the value of unlicensed vehicles, leased vehicles, vehicles owned solely by SSI recipients, and vehicles used for hunting or fishing.


Excludes the value of one vehicle per household


No vehicles are excluded from federal SNAP resource rules


Excludes one vehicle per household


No vehicles are excluded from federal SNAP resource rules


Excludes the value of all vehicles


For those not subject to work requirements, excludes value of one vehicle up to $8500. For households subject to work requirements, excludes combined value of vehicles up to $8500.


No vehicles are excluded from the federal SNAP resource rules 


No vehicles are excluded from the federal SNAP resource rules


No vehicles are excluded from the federal SNAP resource rules


Excludes value of one vehicles per adult household member


Excludes the value of all vehicles used for transportation


No vehicles are excluded from the federal SNAP resource rules


Excludes all vehicles


Excludes all vehicles


Excludes all vehicles except RVs


Households with dependent children can exclude the value of all vehicles. Households without dependent children can exclude the value of one vehicle.


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Follows federal SNAP vehicle asset rules


Follows federal SNAP vehicle asset rules


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the value of one vehicle per household


Excludes one vehicle up to $12,000 fair market value


Excludes the value of one vehicle per household

New Hampshire 

Excludes the value of one vehicle per adult in the household

New Jersey 

Excludes one vehicle per household with a fir market value up to $9,500.

New Mexico 

Excludes the value of all vehicles

New York 

Excludes the value of one vehicle per household. More than one can be excluded if it is proven the additional vehicles are required for work or work training

North Carolina 

Excludes the value of one vehicle per adult

North Dakota 

Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the equity value of one vehicle up to $5000


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the value of one vehicle per household

Rhode Island

 Follows federal SNAP vehicle resource rules

South Carolina 

Excludes the value of all vehicles

South Dakota 

Excludes the value of one vehicle per household


Follows federal SNAP vehicle resource rules


Excludes the fair market value of one vehicle up to $15,000


Excludes the fair market value of one vehicle up to $8000


Excludes the value of one vehicle per adult with a maximum of two vehicles


Follows federal SNAP vehicle resource rules


Follows federal SNAP vehicle resource rules

West Virginia 

Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the value of all vehicles


Excludes the fair market value of up to two vehicles with a total value of $12,000