Food Stamps Frequently Asked Questions

How quickly can I get food stamps?

In most cases, you can expect Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to become available to you about a month after you submit your application for assistance. Emergency food assistance or expedited benefits may also be available for qualifying applicants. If you need immediate food assistance, the SNAP representative assisting you with your application can advise you of your options based on the laws and resources available in your state of residence.

One or more members of my household have food allergies. Will foods stamps accommodate our needs?

SNAP benefits are designed to maximize beneficiaries’ flexibility and autonomy in selecting the foods most appealing to their families and appropriate for their needs. You are free to apply your benefits to any allergy-friendly foods that meet general SNAP purchasing requirements.

Can I qualify for food stamps if I live alone and do not have children?

Eligibility for food stamp benefits is calculated by charting an applicant’s household income and family size against the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) on a sliding scale. Single-person households that do not qualify for assistance based on age or disability can still qualify for benefits regardless of all other factors if they meet the household income requirements.

Is it really possible to feed my family on food stamps?

Yes, but the benefits are meant to be supplementary. Each month, the USDA recalculates the average cost of food and adjusts SNAP benefits accordingly. These adjustments ensure that food stamps recipients will be able to afford a healthy, well-balanced variety of foods in types and quantities suitable for a wide range of ages and needs. Recipients who need assistance learning how to maximize the efficiency and value of their benefits can take advantage of government-provided SNAP-Ed resources that are available through their states’ SNAP programs.

Can SNAP electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards be used to access any benefits other than food stamps?

In many states, SNAP EBT cards qualify holders to receive non-food-related assistance, discounts and other benefits. The nature and availability of these benefits varies by state but can include reduced-price admission to museums and other venues, access to reduced-cost services such as vehicle repairs, or free or reduced-price hunting or fishing licenses. In addition, most state SNAP programs work to connect recipients with educational, vocational and occupational support resources to help them prepare themselves for and secure employment where appropriate.

I am going to college in the fall. Can I keep my SNAP benefits?

You will need to check with the SNAP authority in your state of residence. In most states, college students do not generally qualify for food stamp benefits. Exceptions may be made, however, for students receiving benefits under other state and federal assistance programs, students with young dependents at home or enrollees with other special circumstances.

Do I have to participate in an interview to get SNAP benefits? Can’t I just turn in an application?

All applicants must complete an interview with a SNAP program representative before they can be awarded benefits. These interviews allow representatives to fully explain the program, its rules and its benefits to new beneficiaries. They also allow representatives to provide assistance, where needed, with any gaps or errors on an applicant’s application so that requests for benefits can be processed without delay. Most states offer accommodations such as phone interviews for applicants who have difficulty making an appointment in person.

What kind of documentation do I need to apply for food stamps?

Applicants must supply proof of United States citizenship, residency in the state in which they are applying for benefits and household size and income. A SNAP program representative may be able to assist you in finding and securing qualifying documentation if you do not have it and are unsure how to acquire it.

If I qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) do I still have to apply separately for food stamps?

You do not need to apply for SNAP separately. Applicants and households who qualify for and are enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or who are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments automatically qualify for food stamps. Your TANF or SSI case worker or program representative can assist you in setting up your SNAP benefits at your request.

What happens to my SNAP benefits if I am incarcerated?

If you are the primary recipient of food stamps in your household, your benefits will most likely be discontinued or revoked when you are incarcerated. Transferring your benefits without authorization or allowing them to be used by someone else, including other members of your household, such as a spouse or children, is considered fraud under SNAP regulations and may carry severe consequences. If your household needs access to food stamp benefits during your incarceration, another individual will have to apply on the household’s behalf and be independently approved for assistance. Depending on the cause of your incarceration, you may be able to reapply and have your benefits reinstated when you are released. However, it is important to be aware that in many states certain types of offenses, particularly drug-related offenses, can disqualify convicted individuals from state and federal assistance programs for a period of time or even permanently. Representatives from your state’s SNAP program will be able to provide details specific to the rules in your state of residence.

Are there work requirements for SNAP recipients?

Some applicants may be subject to minimum work requirements in order to keep their SNAP benefits. Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) between the ages of 18 and 49 are often restricted to three months of SNAP support within a 36-month span of time. To continue to receive benefits beyond the three-month limit, most states require that ABAWDs meet minimum work requirements. Exceptions apply and may vary by state.

What can I do if I suspect someone is committing food stamps fraud?

It is a crime to sell, trade or transfer food stamps or to otherwise knowingly violate program rules. If you are aware of or suspect SNAP fraud, please report it by calling toll free to 1-800-424-9121.

Can I use my SNAP benefits at restaurants?

Generally, no. SNAP funds are designed to be used for the purchase of cost-effective food that will be prepared and consumed at home. However, some states offer exemptions to these rules for certain qualifying populations. For example, recipients who are homeless or unable to cook for themselves due to a disability may be authorized to purchase meals from pre-approved restaurants in some cities or states.

Can I use my SNAP benefits to pay for vitamins or supplements?

No. SNAP benefits are intended to provide recipients to access to safe, healthy and adequate food. They cannot be used on non-food items such a medicine, vitamins or supplements.

Why can I buy some brands of a product but not others with my SNAP EBT card?

How a product is labeled, categorized or composed by its manufacturer or producer can influence whether or not it qualifies for purchase under existing SNAP guidelines. Similar items may differ in seemingly slight but important ways, which result in one product qualifying for purchase and the other being disqualified. For example, some energy drinks are labeled and marketed by their producers as a standard beverage. These drinks are categorized as food, just like juices or soft drinks. Other energy drinks are labeled and marketed as supplements, which are not allowable under SNAP benefits and therefore cannot be purchased using a SNAP EBT card. Similarly, gift baskets that are more than 50 percent food typically qualify food purchase under SNAP while gift baskets that are less then 50 percent food by composition do not.