How to Obtain Food Stamps

Food stamp benefits are a valuable resource for eligible low-income families, senior citizens, disabled individuals and others in need. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal nutrition program managed at the state level.

Often referred to as receiving food stamps, SNAP recipients receive a monthly benefit to help purchase nutritious food. Applicants must meet specific income and household size guidelines.

Groceries are purchased with the use of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that works at the cash register similar to a debit card. Review the following sections to learn more about how to obtain benefits for your household and tips for appealing food stamp denial cases.

How can food stamps help?

Food stamps help families in need improve their access to nutritious foods by stretching the household’s grocery budget on a monthly basis. Although recipients of SNAP benefits are expected to spend some of their disposable income on food, receiving food stamps increases the purchasing power of their food dollars. D-SNAP food assistance  also called the Temporary Emergency Family Assistance Program (TEFAP) is available to many families who need emergency food help following a natural disaster.

SNAP benefits extend beyond providing daily access to better foods. Assistance also includes the SNAP-Ed nutrition and obesity prevention program which teaches families how to achieve overall good health. Food stamp benefits increase in areas of economic depression and actually help move families above the poverty line when counted as income. Children in households that receive assistance also benefit from automatic qualification for free or reduced-cost meals at school through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

Although SNAP food stamps cannot be used to purchase every type of food, they cover most commonly-enjoyed foods, including meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, breads and other carbohydrates.

Food Stamps Eligibility Guidelines

Not everyone who applies for SNAP will qualify for food stamps, but the majority of people facing hunger and food scarcity will meet eligibility requirements. Note that food stamps eligibility requirements somewhat vary by state, but SNAP income guidelines are set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The income for food stamps is higher in Alaska and Hawaii than it is in the contiguous 48 states.

The household must also report resources owned, such as land or vehicles, when applying for benefits. There are certain eligibility standards for elderly applicants age 60 or older and for disabled petitioners, who are also usually exempt from the usual SNAP benefit work requirements. Non-citizens do not have SNAP eligibility unless they can prove lawful presence in the United States.

How to Apply for Food Stamps

When you apply for food stamps in your state of residence, your application will detail the information needed to process your petition for benefits. As with eligibility guidelines, the documents needed to apply for SNAP will vary between states. Most people choose to apply online, and nearly all states provide this option. All states provide an online application that can be printed and filled out at home before submitting it in person or by mail to your local office.

Related Article: How to Apply for Food Stamps

The food stamps application process is an in-depth task that requires access to several vital documents. Although the documents required will vary by individual, most will need at least the following:

  • Proof of identity, such as a driver’s license or ID card
  • Proof of residence
  • Statement of household composition/size
  • Proof of age, usually a birth certificate
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Proof of current citizenship or immigration status
  • Earned and unearned income statements
  • Proof of resource ownership, such as a vehicle title or land deed
  • School records to show children’s age and residence

Food Stamps Interviews

A food stamp interview will be scheduled a few weeks after submitting a food stamp application. The purpose of a SNAP interview is to verify all the information provided on the application and to get answers for any areas of the application that may have been left blank. Unlike a job interview, the food stamp interview questions will be presented in a discussion format. Coming to the SNAP interview prepared with original important documents is necessary to back up the information you stated on your original SNAP application. If necessary, you may request a food stamp phone interview instead of an in-person interview. Elderly and disabled applicants may also ask to send another family member to attend or ask to have the interview held at their home.

How to Appeal a Food Stamps Denial

It is disappointing to receive a denial of benefits, but you are allowed to request a fair hearing for SNAP benefits denials against you. If you need to appeal food stamp decision outcomes, contact your caseworker and let him or her know that you want to open a food stamp appeal.

If you feel that your need for appealing food stamp denial is linked to something your SNAP office should have done, but did not accomplish, you may submit a compliance complaint explaining your position. After you begin the food stamps appeal process, you will receive notice of a date to appear before a judge and explain why you believe your local social services agency was wrong to deny your benefits. You will later receive the result of your food stamp appeal. If the judge issuing the food stamps fair hearing decisions rules in your favor, the office will be ordered to correct your case.

EBT Cards

SNAP benefits are delivered through a plastic EBT card that the agency reloads with benefits each month. After choosing your groceries at the supermarket, you simply check out by swiping your EBT card through the card reader at the cash register. The SNAP EBT card has made using benefits easier and helped eliminate some of the embarrassment food stamp recipients experienced when they checked out with the old paper version of food stamps.

Much like a bank card, you can check EBT balance online by logging into your state’s benefits website. In most cases, your EBT balance is accessible through the same site where you first applied for your SNAP benefits. You should always guard your EBT card the same way you would protect cash or a credit card and choose a personal identification number (PIN) that is difficult for others to guess.

Related Article: Using Your Food Stamps

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