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How to Apply for Food Stamps

Posted In:  low income assistance

Food StampsTrying to find out how to apply for food stamps?  We'll do our best to help.  While many people still call them "food stamps", the benefits are no longer handed out as paper certificates, rather, they are loaded onto a plastic "EBT Card" that works like a debit card.  EBT stands for "Electronic Balance Transfer", and the food stamp program itself is officially called "SNAP", short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Do I qualify for Food Stamps?


A good first step to take before you apply for Food Stamps is to find out if you qualify. Your eligibility for food stamps will be determined based on your total household income, as well as other factors

, like the amount of money in your bank account, and number and type of cars that you own.   There are items that do not count against you, such as the value of your home, Social Security Benefits, and most other forms of Government Assistance. Generally, if you are unemployed, or employed, but at a very low wage, you will probably qualify.

The U.S. goverment supplies a terrific tool that you can use to find out not only if you qualify, but also the approximate amount of the benefit you may receive.   Give the SNAP Pre-Screening Tool a try.

What is an EBT Card?

EBT Cards

A change in Federal law was passed in 1996 that required all states to change from paper food stamps to an Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT) card by October 1, 2002.   The cards work just like an ATM or debit card.  Your benefits are in a "bank" of sorts, and as you use the card to buy food, the balance is reduced.   The purpose behind the switch was primarily to reduce the cost of printing, storing, and shipping paper food stamps.  They do have other benefits though, for example, if you lose your EBT card, you can get a replacement, instead of just losing those funds like you would with food stamps.

Where to Apply for Food Stamps

Food Stamps, or SNAP, is a federally funded government program, but the administration of the program is at the State level.  This means that the application process varies quite a bit depending on what state you live in.  Florida, for example, has a way to apply for Foodstamps online.  See the end of this article for a list of resources by state.  Regardless of the state you live in however,  you can always apply for food stamps at a local SNAP or Social Security office.

After you file your application form, you will typically have to attend a in-person interview, where the local office can verify your identity, as well as other documents, like proof of income, that you'll be asked to bring:

  •     If you are currently employed, you'll need pay stubs,  or a signed letter from your employer that shows your gross and net paycheck figures from the last month.
  •     If you are currently unemployed, you'll need to bring proof that your employment was terminated, or proof that you are currently receiving unemployment benefits.
  •     Household Resource Records: Bring current account statements for all of your savings and checking accounts.  Also, if you have investments, bring a copy of the statements for any  stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, annuites, etc.
  •     Verification of Income:  Be sure to bring in your income tax return from last year.
  •     Students: Bring proof of education expenses (your tuition payments, for example) as well as proof of any school-related loans, grants, or scholarships.
  •     Social Security Card(s): Bring the Social Security card for each member of your household.  If you do not have the card, be sure to being in the numbers.

What you can, and cannot buy with Food Stamps

Generally, your food stamps, or more accurately, your EBT card, can be used to buy any food item except for items that are hot when you buy them, or food that is meant to be eaten at purchase time, in the store, like a restaurant.

Items you cannot buy:

  • Non-foods, for exampe:  dog food, paper plates and napkins, soap, cleaning products, toothpaste, shampoo, other grooming items, and cosmetics
  • beer, wine, liquor and tobacco
  • vitamins, supplements, medicines
  • Food that will be eaten in the store
  • Hot foods

Items you can buy:

  • You can buy seeds or  plants you intend to grow to feed your household.
  • Locally grown food at farmers' markets (provided the market has the ability to accept EBT purchases).
  • If you are elderly or otherwise disabled, you can use your SNAP benefits to purchase for approved home-delivered meals, like the popular "Meals on Wheels" program, and also for your meals at approved senior housing, or other group meals.
  • Those attending drug or alcohol addiction treatment programs, shelters for battered women or the homeless, and  other qualifiying group living institutions can use food stamps to pay for their meals.
  • Semi-Prepared foods that are ready-to-cook.  For example, Papa Murphy's Take-and-Bake Pizza

How much money per month will I receive in Food Stamps?

 The actual amount varies greatly depending on your qualifying criteria and the number of people in your household.  However, to give you a general idea, according to the USDA, the the average monthly food stamp benefit was $101 per person and about $227 per household in 2008.  The maximum monthly SNAP payments is around $200 for individuals to $668 per month in Fiscal Year 2010 for a household of four people.  Again, for a good estimate that considers your specific circumstances, you can use the SNAP Pre-Screening Tool.

For More Information
 For further information, the USDA maintains a very good Frequenty Asked Questions Page concerning EBT and the SNAP food stamp program.

Other State-Specific Information:

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