When you and your family are experiencing financial stress, putting nutritious meals on the table can be a challenge. Fortunately, the United States Government offers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a food assistance program.
SNAP is a means-tested assistance program. That means it is only available to those who need help. The greater your need, the more you can receive.
SNAP eligibility requirements are based mainly on your income and household size. Here’s a guide to help you find out whether you qualify for SNAP.
What Is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?
SNAP, often called “food stamps,” was established in 1933. This income-based program offers low-income families and individuals additional funds to purchase food.
The program helps people in need avoid malnutrition and hunger while moving toward becoming self-sufficient. It also helps free up funds that would otherwise go to food, helping you afford other expenses and reduce your debt load.
Even though SNAP is a federal program, you must apply through your state’s human services (or similar) department. Most departments have a SNAP counselor who can offer help.
How Do You Know If You Qualify for SNAP?
Before you go about applying, make sure to check your SNAP eligibility. There are limits based on income and other assets, although these limits may vary by state. Limits also are adjusted based on inflation and other factors.
Although there are some exceptions, most applicants need to meet both gross income (total income before any deductions) and net income (income after certain deductions like taxes and health insurance) criteria to qualify for SNAP.
Your household’s gross income must be no more than 130% of the federal poverty line for your household size. Your net monthly income must be no more than 100% of the federal poverty line for your household size.
If you live anywhere in the United States besides Alaska and Hawaii, these are the income limits by household size:
|1 Person:||$1,473 gross/$1,133 net|
|2 People:||$1,984 gross/$1,526 net|
|3 People:||$2,495 gross/$1,920 net|
|4 People:||$3,007 gross/$2,313 net|
|5 People:||$3,518 gross/$2,706 net|
|6 People:||$4,029 gross/$3,100 net|
|7 People:||$4,541 gross/$3,493 net|
|8 People:||$5,052 gross/$3,886 net|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $512 to gross income and $394 to net income|
These limits apply between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023. The cost of living is higher in Alaska and Hawaii, so income limits are higher in those states.
Here are the income limits for Alaska through September 30, 2023:
|1 Person:||$1,841 gross/$1,416 net|
|2 People:||$2,480 gross/$1,908 net|
|3 People:||$3,119 gross/$2,400 net|
|4 People:||$3,759 gross/$2,891 net|
|5 People:||$4,398 gross/$3,383 net|
|6 People:||$5,037 gross/$3,875 net|
|7 People:||$5,676 gross/$4,366 net|
|8 People:||$6,315 gross/$4,858 net|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $640 to gross income and $492 to net income|
When you adjust for Alaska’s higher cost of living, the gross and net income limits are 130% and 100% of the federal poverty line, respectively.
Hawaii’s income limits are a little lower than Alaska’s, but they are a bit higher than those for the continental US:
|1 Person:||$1,694 gross/$1,303 net|
|2 People:||$2,282 gross/$1,755 net|
|3 People:||$2,870 gross/$2,208 net|
|4 People:||$3,458 gross/$2,660 net|
|5 People:||$4,047 gross/$3,113 net|
|6 People:||$4,635 gross/$3,565 net|
|7 People:||$5,223 gross/$4,018 net|
|8 People:||$5,811 gross/$4,470 net|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $589 to gross income and $453 to net income|
Income Limits if You Are Elderly or Disabled
If you are disabled or elderly and are considered to be a separate household from others you live with, your income limits will be slightly different. Here are some of the main ways you would qualify as a separate household in this scenario:
- If you are 60 or older or unable to buy and prepare separate meals due to a permanent disability, and others you live with make no more than 165% of the federal poverty line
- If you live in and have your meals prepared by federally subsidized housing for the elderly
- If you live in a nonprofit group living arrangement as a result of a disability
If you qualify as a separate household, here are the gross income limits for the 48 contiguous states and Washington, DC:
|1 Person:||$1,869 gross|
|2 People:||$2,518 gross|
|3 People:||$3,167 gross|
|4 People:||$3,816 gross|
|5 People:||$4,465 gross|
|6 People:||$5,114 gross|
|7 People:||$5,763 gross|
|8 People:||$6,412 gross|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $649 to the gross income|
Here are the income limits for Alaska:
|1 Person:||$2,337 gross|
|2 People:||$3,148 gross|
|3 People:||$3,959 gross|
|4 People:||$4,770 gross|
|5 People:||$5,582 gross|
|6 People:||$6,393 gross|
|7 People:||$7,204 gross|
|8 People:||$8,015 gross|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $812 to the gross income|
And here are the income limits for Hawaii:
|1 Person:||$2,150 gross|
|2 People:||$2,896 gross|
|3 People:||$3,643 gross|
|4 People:||$4,389 gross|
|5 People:||$5,136 gross|
|6 People:||$5,883 gross|
|7 People:||$6,629 gross|
|8 People:||$7,376 gross|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $747 to the gross income|
As you can see, navigating these eligibility and benefit guidelines is sometimes more complex than it appears. If you have questions about whether you qualify for SNAP, check with your state’s agency that handles SNAP benefits.
To qualify for SNAP, you also must have limited assets. These are resources you could use to buy food. The most common asset is the money in your bank account.
If you have assets that are not easily accessible, these assets don’t count. These are some common assets that don’t count toward the limit:
- Your home
- Your car (in most cases)
- Personal property
- Retirement savings
If your household doesn’t include someone 60 or older or someone with a disability, your assets can’t total more than $2,750. If your household has a member 60 or older or someone with a disability, your assets can’t total more than $4,250.
How Much Can You Get in Benefits?
There are federally determined maximum SNAP benefits for each month, but your benefits will vary based on your income.
The benefits calculation takes the maximum allowed amount and subtracts 30% of your net income to get the total amount SNAP expects you to spend on food.
Maximum and Minimum Benefits by Area
The maximum and minimum benefits vary based on your location.
The Continental US
Here are the maximum benefit amounts per household in the contiguous 48 states and Washington DC:
|For Each Additional Member:||add $211|
In this area, the minimum SNAP benefit you can receive (if you are eligible) is $23 per month.
In Alaska, the maximum benefit you can receive depends on which of the three zones you live in. Here’s the breakdown by household size and region:
|1 Person:||$351 Urban/$448 Rural 1/$545 Rural 2|
|2 People:||$644 Urban/$822 Rural 1/$1,000 Rural 2|
|3 People:||$923 Urban/$1,177 Rural 1/$1,432 Rural 2|
|4 People:||$1,172 Urban/$1,494 Rural 1/$1,819 Rural 2|
|5 People:||$1,391 Urban/$1,774 Rural 1/$2,160 Rural 2|
|6 People:||$1,670 Urban/$2,129 Rural 1/$2,592 Rural 2|
|7 People:||$1,846 Urban/$2,354 Rural 1/$2,865 Rural 2|
|8 People:||$2,109 Urban/$2,690 Rural 1/$3,274 Rural 2|
|For Each Additional Member:||add $264 Urban/$336 Rural 1/$409 Rural 2|
Shipping food and other supplies to Alaska tends to be expensive, so food costs are higher than in the lower 48 states.
Like Alaska, Hawaii has a higher cost of living, so it has higher SNAP maximums as well:
|For Each Additional Member:||add $404|
Guam and the US Virgin Islands also have adjusted maximum benefits based on the cost of living.
How Do You Apply?
To start the process, find your state agency that handles SNAP applications. It’s usually the state’s Department of Human Services. You should be able to apply online, by mail, or by phone.
To qualify for SNAP, you’ll need to include information about your household size, income, and assets on the application. After you’ve applied, someone from your state agency will contact you to set up a phone interview or an in-person appointment. After that, the agency will decide whether you’re eligible for SNAP.
How Are SNAP Benefits Delivered?
SNAP benefits are delivered via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Once you qualify for SNAP, you get a card that looks like a regular debit card.
Your EBT card works like a prepaid card. Each month, your benefits are loaded onto the card. You can then use the card for approved grocery purchases at retailers that accept SNAP. Many retailers accept it, including:
- Most grocery stores
- Some convenience stores
- Some other retail stores
- Most farmer’s markets
Your SNAP card can be used in all 50 states. If you don’t use all your benefits in one month, they will roll over to the next. However, if you stop using your benefits for nine months, they will be removed from your card.
What You Can (and Can’t) Buy with SNAP
There are some limitations on what you can buy with SNAP. Here are some examples of SNAP food your benefits will cover:
- Cereal and bread
- Dairy products
- Fish, meat, and poultry
- Fruit and vegetables
- Plants or seeds you can use to grow food
- Non-alcoholic drinks
There are also some things you can’t use your SNAP card to buy, including:
- Cleaning supplies
- Paper goods
- Pet food
- Supplements or vitamins
- Hot food (with some exceptions)
Each time you use your card, your receipt should tell you how much of your balance remains. You can also check your online account or call a number on the back of the card.
Can You Use SNAP to Buy Restaurant Food?
Sometimes. Some states have a Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) that lets you use your benefits at restaurants. However, you have to be approved for the RMP by your state. Usually, you must be disabled, homeless, elderly, or otherwise likely to have problems preparing your own meals.
Employment Requirements for SNAP
To qualify for SNAP and receive monthly benefits, you might need to meet certain work requirements. There are two sets of requirements: general work requirements and able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) work requirements.
General Work Requirements
Benefit recipients aged 16-59 who can work must be employed or registered for work (or participating in an approved work training program), taking appropriate job offers, and not voluntarily reducing their hours below 30 per week.
However, some situations may exempt you from this rule:
- Caring for a child under six or a disabled person.
- Meeting work requirements for another state program.
- Participating in alcohol or drug treatment.
- Being physically or mentally unable to work.
- In school or training at least half-time.
These requirements may vary from state to state. Consult your state’s guidelines.
ABAWD Work Requirements
If you are 18-49 and have no dependents, you are generally required to work or participate in a work training program for at least 80 hours per month. If you don’t, you may be limited to three months of SNAP benefits every three years.
However, there are several situations where this restriction doesn’t apply:
- If you work or are in a work training program at least 20 hours per week
- If you have children in your household
- If you’re pregnant
- If you’re physically or mentally unable to work
Depending on your circumstances, there may also be other exceptions to this limitation.
Possible Changes to SNAP Requirements
As of this writing, U.S. lawmakers are set to approve a debt ceiling agreement that would lead to changes in SNAP requirements.
In the version of the agreement considered in Congress, the ages of participants who would need to provide proof of work would increase from 18-49 to 18-54. However, whether this goes into effect is yet to officially be determined.
Making SNAP Work for You
The SNAP program was designed to help families in need, but it also may help you overcome food insecurity and financial instability. You may be able to participate in work training programs to help you move into higher-paying fields, crossing the bridge to financial self-sufficiency.