In a nation of vast wealth and prosperity, there are still millions of Americans who struggle to put food on their tables every night, including millions of older citizens. Spurred by this large and ongoing problem, the United States Department of Agriculture oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
SNAP was formerly known as the food stamp program and is currently the nation’s largest domestic hunger safety net. The USDA works with state agencies, nutrition educators and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure those who are eligible for nutrition assistance have the means to apply and access benefits.
To be eligible for SNAP, applicants must meet certain requirements. The USDA has created a pre-screening tool to give an initial indication of whether or not an applicant might be eligible for benefits. Using the tool does not mean a person has actually filed for benefits.
Applicants must still submit to join the program through their state SNAP agency or their local SNAP office. It is important to note that each state has different forms and a different application process. You or a member of your household must contact the appropriate agency directly to apply for SNAP benefits.
To find your appropriate state agency and local SNAP offices, go here.
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 limits eligibility for SNAP benefits to U.S. citizens and certain lawfully present non-citizens.
Generally, to qualify for SNAP, non-citizens must meet one of the following criteria:
- Have lived in the United States for at least 5 years.
- Be receiving disability-related assistance or benefits.
- Be children under 18.
What happens after you apply
After you apply, your state agency will review your application and send you a notice to let you know if you are eligible or not for SNAP benefits. This process normally takes less than 30 days. During this waiting period, applicants will go through an eligibility interview and provide verification of the information they provided on their application. If you are deemed eligible, you will receive benefits based on the date your application was submitted.
It you are approved for SNAP benefits, you will receive a certification letter advising you how long you will receive benefits for. When you are nearing the end of your certification period, you will get another letter with instructions on how to recertify to continue to receive benefits.
You will receive SNAP benefits on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. This is a debit card, and funds are loaded into your account each month, allowing you to buy groceries at authorized food stores and retailers.
Households may have $2,250 in countable resources (such as cash or money in a bank account) or $3,500 in countable resources if at least one member of the household is 60 or older, or is disabled.
However, certain resources are NOT counted when determining eligibility for SNAP:
- A home and lot;
- Resources of people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
- Resources of people who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF; also known as welfare); and
- Most retirement and pension plans (withdrawals from these accounts may count as either income or resources depending on how often they occur).
Vehicles count as a resource for SNAP purposes. States determine how vehicles may count toward household resources.
Licensed vehicles are NOT counted if they are:
- Used for income-producing purposes (e.g., taxi, truck or delivery vehicle);
- Annually producing income consistent with their fair market value;
- Needed for long distance travel for work (other than daily commute);
- Used as the home;
- Needed to transport a physically disabled household member;
- Needed to carry most of the household's fuel or water; or
- If the sale of the vehicle would result in less than $1500.
- For non-excluded licensed vehicles, the fair market value over $4,650 counts as a resource.
Licensed vehicles are also subject to an equity test, which is the fair market value less any amount owed on the vehicle. The following vehicles are excluded from the equity test:
- One vehicle per adult household member; and
- Any other vehicle used by a household member under 18 to drive to work, school, job training, or to look for work.
- For vehicles with both a fair market value over $4,650 and an equity value, the greater of the two amounts is counted as a resource.
Additionally, the equity value of unlicensed vehicles generally counts as a resource, with some exceptions.
SNAP also allows an Exces Shelter Costs Deduction. It is for shelter costs that are more than half of the household's income after other deductions.
Allowable shelter costs include:
- Fuel to heat and cook with.
- The basic fee for one telephone.
- Rent or mortgage payments and interest.
- Taxes on the home.
Some States allow a set amount for utility costs instead of actual costs.