SNAP enables eligible households to afford nutritious food by providing funds through a debit-style Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. The EBT card is reloaded monthly with a benefit level based on each household’s size and financial situation. These restricted funds can only be spent on eligible food items at USDA-approved retailers.
SNAP is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the federal government provides funding to cover the full cost of the benefits. The cost to administer the program is shared between states and the federal government. Applications for SNAP are processed at the local (typically county) level, and participants work directly with their local agency to maintain eligibility.
Ensuring that eligible families with children participate in SNAP is critical to support access to adequate nutrition not only at home but also at school. Students in households that participate in SNAP can be directly certified for free school meals, and schools with enough directly certified students may be able to offer meals at no charge to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision.
For more background on SNAP, download our one-pager or view our page with SNAP information and resources: https://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/programs/Supplemental-Nutrition-Assistance-Program.
SNAP Supports Healthy Eating and Local Economies
To be eligible for SNAP, households must have a gross income of less than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines and have limited resources. The federal poverty guidelines are updated annually. Other eligibility requirements vary between states, including resource limits and special rules for the elderly and people with disabilities.
To maintain eligibility, participants also have to fulfill work requirements. Participants who are between ages 16 – 59 and able to work must meet the general work requirements. Additionally, participants ages 18 – 49 who do not have any dependent children are considered Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) and must prove that they meet additional, more stringent work requirements.
For more on participant eligibility, see our page on how SNAP works.
To qualify as a SNAP retailer, businesses must apply and then maintain eligibility through the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Retail applicants must meet specific standards and adhere to appropriate business practices, and they must verify all information with business and tax records, appropriate licenses, and any other documentation requested.
Standards for retailers are set to help SNAP participants purchase healthy and nutrient-rich foods. Retailers generally qualify under one of two sets of standards known as Criterion A or Criterion B.
Criterion A requires that a store stock at least 36 staple food items, of which six must be perishable. Additionally, these 36 staple food items must meet the depth and breadth of stock requirements, such as maintaining certain amounts of fresh food and variety of stock that represents all food categories. There are four staple food categories: (1) vegetables or fruits; (2) meat, poultry, or fish; (3) dairy products; and (4) breads or cereals. (It is important to note that heated foods, hot foods, and cold prepared foods are not considered staple foods.)
Criterion B requires that a store have more than 50% of its total gross retail sales be from one or more of the staple food categories. Criterion B stores generally specialize in selling items from one staple food category but don’t qualify for Criterion A because the store cannot meet the stocking requirements.
If for some reason a retailer cannot meet the requirements of A or B but operates in an area considered low income and with considerable low access to food, a retailer may qualify under the “Need for Access” standards. This retailer must also qualify under all other SNAP retailer standards.
The USDA maintains a searchable list of the locations of current SNAP retailers at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailer-locator.
Program and Legislative History
The first Food Stamp Program, which would later become known as SNAP, was first established in 1939 and ran until 1943. It was piloted again in 1961 and made permanent by the Food Stamp Act of 1964. By 1974, it was required to be available nationwide in every jurisdiction.
Now, a comprehensive package of federal legislation referred to as “The Farm Bill” sets policy and funding structures for SNAP. Supporting farmers is a primary purpose of the Farm Bill, but it has expanded to include nutrition programs and conservation as domestic and economic policy agendas changed. The first Farm Bill was part of the New Deal and called the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. Since the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973, the Farm Bill has also included nutrition assistance programs. The Farm Bill now authorizes programs like incentives for healthy food purchasing and commodity food assistance.
The 2008 reauthorization of the Farm Bill that rebranded the Food Stamp Program as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. The bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill directed the USDA re-evaluate how benefit values are set by updating the Thrifty Food Plan to take into account current shopping patterns and dietary needs without requiring the changes to be cost-neutral. For more information on what the Thrifty Food Plan is and how it relates to SNAP benefit levels, review this Thrifty Food Plan one-pager.
Legislative Process for the Farm Bill
Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill every five years. SNAP is a permanently authorized entitlement program, meaning that it continues without the need for future Congressional action and will automatically serve all eligible participants without Congress needing to authorize additional funding. However, many other programs authorized by the Farm Bill would lapse if it was not reauthorized in a timely manner. This also provides an opportunity to make policy changes to expand and improve SNAP.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the House Agriculture Committee each oversee the drafting of the Farm Bill. Each committee starts the process with hearings to learn from stakeholders about the current challenges and needs that must be addressed by the Farm Bill. Members of Congress introduce individual "marker bills" addressing specific issues with the understanding that these marker bills will not be considered separately but instead get integrated into each committee's overall Farm Bill package. Once the committee drafts and passes the Farm Bill, the full Senate and House must vote to approve the package. After separate Senate and House versions are reconciled as needed and receive final approval, the President signs the Farm Bill into law.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 is the name of the latest Farm Bill reauthorization, and it expires in 2023. Congress is expected to reauthorize the Farm Bill in 2023 with committee hearings already underway.
The Thrifty Food Plan
As Congress negotiates the 2023 Farm Bill, Share Our Strength is committed to protecting the value of SNAP benefits, maintaining and increasing access to SNAP and defending and expanding access to SNAP Education (SNAP-Ed).
We urge Congress to:
Protect the value of SNAP benefits
- Protect the increase in SNAP benefits resulting from the recent Thrifty Food Plan revision directed by the 2018 Farm Bill.
Maintain and increase access to SNAP
- Preserve and expand broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE).
- Prevent additional work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) or the elimination of state waivers.
- Expand and improve online ordering through SNAP.
- Oppose limits on eligibility through changes to the asset test.
- Improve SNAP technology to streamline administration and promote equitable access, including making permanent the COVID-19 waiver options for telephonic signatures and telephone interviews.
- Support equity for Tribal communities by allowing participation in both SNAP and FDPIR in the same month.
- Allow U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to fully participate in SNAP.
- Strengthen the collection and disaggregation of data.
- Support access to SNAP for military families by excluding the basic housing allowance as income and ensuring access for veterans with disabilities.
- Promote community engagement and outreach among underserved communities.
- Provide USDA with permanent authority to issue nationwide SNAP waivers in the event of future crises.
Defend and expand access to SNAP-Ed
- Strengthen nutrition education by protecting and supporting SNAP-Ed, maintaining the current funding stream to states.
- Provide increased flexibility within the program activities, evaluation and allowable expenses that increase community engagement in SNAP-Ed.
If you wish to learn more and share these priorities, you can download the full list of Share Our Strength's 2023 Farm Bill priorities.
2023 Farm Bill Priorities
SNAP is a counter-cyclical program and is intended to respond to changes in economic conditions—when the economy is lagging, more households become eligible for SNAP, and participation increases to support people when they need additional financial support. However, during severe economic shocks, more support may be needed to help struggling families and boost economic activity. In these cases, Congress may authorize changes to SNAP in order to ease the burden on households and promote recovery. This occurred in response to the 2008 recession, and it occurred again in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, COVID-19 also required a change in program administration to allow for social distancing and safety. Congress authorized higher benefit levels as well as a range of program flexibilities and waivers through COVID-19 response legislation like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the CARES Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act. For more details, view this information on SNAP changes and flexibilities during COVID-19.
Additionally, Congress may make changes to SNAP through the appropriations process. SNAP is a permanently authorized entitlement program, so it does not require an annual appropriation in order to continue. However, Congress may pass legislative changes in conjunction with appropriations bills. This happened with Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which authorized reimbursement for SNAP participants who have their benefits stolen through EBT card skimming between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2024. It also directed USDA to issue guidance to states on theft prevention and card security measures. This bill also curtailed the temporary SNAP emergency allotments authorized in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.