Learn About WIC and Food Stamps Differences
Updated on 08/15/2022
Low-income families have a couple of different federal government services available to help them afford to pay for the food they need. The two most significant of these are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Both of these programs provide similar services, but they administer to different groups of people under slightly different terms and conditions.
Below, this article describes some of the main differences between WIC and Food Stamps. To be eligible for either of these federal programs, you must meet certain criteria, including income limits. Once you have qualified for and start receiving supplemental food benefits from the federal government, whether from the SNAP or WIC program, your use of the benefits is directed. Each program imposes its own restrictions on how much you can receive and how those benefits can be used.
Learn About SNAP (Food Stamps) Requirements
Eligibility for SNAP benefits is based on household income and assets. A household, in this context, refers to any related or unrelated people living under the same roof and generally sharing meals.
As for asset limits for food stamp eligibility, households are permitted $2,250 in countable assets, which includes bank accounts. If the household includes at least one resident who is either disabled or at least 60 years of age, then that asset limit increases to $3,500. Homes and lots are excluded from being considered assets, as are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) resources. Moreover, if a household member receives SSI or TANF, then that household is considered automatically eligible to receive food stamps. Licensed vehicles may or may not be considered assets when determining SNAP program eligibility, depending on a variety of factors. For any vehicle in the household that does qualify as an asset, the amount counted is the given vehicle’s fair market value over $4,650.
From the total qualifying income and assets amount, certain deductions then apply, such as a 20 percent earned-income deduction, a standard $160-$170 deduction based on household size and excess shelter costs exceeding half the household’s income minus deductions. Deductions are also available for certain extenuating circumstances, such as training, education or work in dependent care, medical expenses for disabled or elderly household members and child support payments legally owed.
Learn About WIC Requirements
Unlike the SNAP program, eligibility for WIC benefits depends on more than income. More specifically, the WIC program is only open to women who are pregnant, are breastfeeding or have just given birth, as well as qualifying infants and toddlers up to five years of age. Each state sets its own income limits somewhere between 100 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level. The WIC income limit for a family of one is as follows:
- $22,311 annually
- $1,860 monthly
- $430 weekly
The income limit then increases for each additional family member by $7,733 annually, which is $645 monthly or $149 weekly. If you are eligible for Medicaid or SNAP benefits, then you are automatically considered eligible to receive WIC benefits.
Learn About Food Stamps Benefits
A household’s monthly allotment of food stamps is based on the household’s income. The calculation is based on an estimation that food stamps should cover approximately 70 percent of that household’s groceries, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan, with the household’s own income paying for the remaining 30 percent. The maximum monthly food stamps benefit for residents is $194 for a family of one, increasing by $146 for each additional household member.
Food stamps can only be used to buy food or seeds and plants to grow food that your household will consume. You cannot use food stamps to purchase the following:
- Non-food items
- Tobacco or alcohol
- Medicines or vitamins
- Hot foods or foods to be eaten in-store
Learn About WIC Benefits
Every state publishes its own WIC-approved food list. The lists include a range of choices in the following categories:
- Dairy – including milks, goat milk, soymilk and cheese
- Grains – including cold and hot cereals, bread, tortillas, pasta and rice
- Fruits and vegetables – including juices
The WIC-approved food list also includes certain infant foods, as well as meats and canned fish options for mothers who are fully breastfeeding. The list also mentions foods in each of the aforementioned categories that are explicitly ineligible for purchase with WIC benefits. Each recipient’s WIC checks are printed with the specific foods the checks are permitted to be used to purchase. Only those items listed on the WIC checks can be purchased with those checks. In addition, WIC checks can only be used in the WIC-authorized stores. You are not required to spend the entire amount listed on your WIC checks. However, you will not receive change for unused amounts, and you cannot redeem unused amounts for cash or credit.
If you qualify for both the SNAP and WIC programs, you are allowed to receive benefits from both. Smart spending and healthy eating habits can further help you stretch these benefits to maximize their value to you and your family.