The Must-Know Basics of Applying for Food Assistance

May 7th 2016

Locate Your Nearest SNAP Office

The federal government does not accept applications directly. The USDA website has an office locator to determine your nearest SNAP office, and each state has a toll-free number you can call for directions if you do not have Internet access. You must apply in person through a local agency that works with the federal government. Some offices allow the initial application to occur online, but you must prove your eligibility with an in-person interview and documentation.

Know Your Eligibility Requirements

Eligibility requirements revolve around income, resources and employment. Households may have up to $2,250 in countable resources such as a bank account, or $3,250 in countable resources if one member of the household has a disability or is age 60 or older. Some resources, such as temporary assistance and Social Security benefits, do not count towards the resources total.

Income totals must not exceed 130 percent of the poverty line for gross monthly income. For a family of four in 2015, for example, this means $2,584 in one month. Net monthly income cannot go above 100 percent of the poverty line, which tops out at $1,988 for a family of four. Some families take deductions, such as 20 percent of earned income, dependent care expenses, medical expenses and child support payments. Able-bodied adults between ages 16 and 60 must register for work or lose benefits in most cases.

The USDA website has a prescreening tool that takes you through the application process. While it does not represent an official determination, the online tool can help you better assess if you meet SNAP requirements.

Gather Vital Documents

You must prove you meet eligibility requirements to your local office. Gather bank statements, pay stubs, a rental agreement, mortgage payment stubs and utility bills to prove your income versus expenses. Your Social Security card and valid form of identification allow SNAP offices to identify you as a member of a certain household. Offices may require identification for other members of the household to make sure you do not duplicate SNAP benefits.

Make an Appointment

Make an appointment and attend an interview with a SNAP representative at your local office. The worker explains the benefits, minimum requirements and any parts of the application not yet complete. After the interview, the SNAP office generally informs you in writing whether you are approved to receive benefits.

Use Your Card

After SNAP accepts the application, you get a debit card in the mail to facilitate the electronic benefit transfer. Do not lose the card, as that can delay your access to SNAP benefits. Review the card's limitations with your local SNAP office.


Food assistance from the federal government, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides a monthly allowance for low-income citizens and legal immigrants. In order to receive SNAP benefits, you must apply for the program through a series of steps.

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