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How to Apply for Food Stamps

How to Apply for Food Stamps

An application for food stamps can be filed online or in person. You may also contact the local SNAP office for this purpose.
Sonia Nair
The food stamps program is the common name for the United States Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This program was designed for helping people or families with very less or no income. Even though this program is administered by the USDA., it is the individual states that distribute the benefits. Those who are found eligible under this program, get monthly benefits as food stamps or electronic cards, that can be used at authorized retail food stores to buy food. Earlier, paper stamps of the denomination of USD 1, USD 5, and USD 10 were used as food stamps, which could be used to buy prepackaged edible foods. However, this system was replaced by a specialized debit-card system known as 'electronic benefit transfer' (EBT), during the late 1990s. This is one of the most successful programs, as more than 35 million people in the United States of America are using this card currently. According to recent surveys, one in eight Americans use this card.

Eligibility Criteria

An applicant has to be eligible in the first place, in order to apply for food stamps. The first and foremost requirement is that the applicant must be a citizen of America with a social security number. Even non-citizens are eligible, if they qualify as per the criteria specially provided for such people. Other factors include income, household resources, household expenses, and the number of family members. Even though household resources include bank accounts and vehicles, it does not include the home and the land on which it is built, most of the retirement plans, benefits under 'Temporary Assistance for Needy Families' (TANF), etc. The income limit is calculated on the basis of factors, like the number of family members, number of elderly people in the family, etc. If you wish to apply for food stamps, then it will be better to use the online SNAP Eligibility Pre-screening tool.

Application Procedure

As mentioned above, SNAP is a federal program run by the states, and the procedure of filing application for food stamps may vary from one state to another. So it is better to apply at the local SNAP office or social security office. Even online applications are allowed in some states. If you want to know more about how to apply for food stamps online, then log on to the concerned websites. In other cases, the applicant has to be personally present for submitting the application, and have a face-to-face interview with the concerned officials. If he/she is unable to go to the office personally (due to old age or disability), for filing applications or for the interview, then an authorized representative can be appointed for this purpose. In case the applicant fails to appear for the interview or to appoint a representative, then the officials can conduct a telephonic interview, or they can directly visit your home. While applying for food stamps, you have to produce documents, like proof for termination of employment in case of unemployed persons, employer's letter with mention of gross and net wages (for employed persons), social security numbers, proof for household resources, income proof, proof of income and education expenses (for college students), medical bills (for those above the age of 60), etc. In case of homeless people, priority processing facility is also available.

If your application is approved, you will be provided with an EBT card (within 30 days of filing the application), which is like a debit card only. The benefit is decided on the basis of various factors, like number of family members, income, etc. With this card, you can purchase food items or plants and seeds for growing food for the household. An EBT card cannot be used for buying non-food items, pet foods, cosmetics, medicines, hot foods, household supplies, etc.