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Overview of SNAP
Parent grocery shopping

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly food benefits to eligible households on a debit-style Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that is used to purchase food from approved retailers.

SNAP is an effective and efficient program allowing participating families to purchase food that fits their needs in the places they normally shop like grocery stores and farmers markets. SNAP can also be used to purchase food online.

Any U.S. citizen and certain lawfully present non-citizens can receive SNAP benefits if they qualify. The program is available nationwide and in U.S. territories. 

  • Some U.S. territories operate the Nutrition Assistance Program instead of SNAP - a program that provides a fixed amount to participating territories to provide food assistance to households. 

SNAP is a federal program that is overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services (USDA FNS) and is administered by states

  • SNAP is formerly known as food stamps and some states call it a different name such as CalFresh in California or FoodShare in Wisconsin. 

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How SNAP Works

Details on SNAP eligibility and benefit levels

SNAP is an entitlement program which means it is available to anyone who is determined eligible and all who are eligible will receive benefits

Applicants are required to meet income guidelines to qualify for SNAP. For some, like college students, there are additional eligibility requirements beyond income. Learn more about SNAP eligibility.

  • A household is considered everyone who lives together and purchases and prepares meals together.  

  • Generally, a household’s gross income needs to be at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to qualify for SNAP. In 2022, for a household of four that is $2,871 a month or $34,452 a year. However, income guidelines vary from state to state between 130-200% FPL. 

SNAP benefit levels are based on household size, income and expenses. A household’s expenses like shelter costs, utilities, and dependent care are factored in when calculating the benefit amount they will receive. Generally, households with less income will receive more benefits. 

Applying for and receiving SNAP will have no immigration consequences for those who apply or their families. SNAP is not considered as part of public charge (the public charge rule is a test applied to certain individuals going through particular immigration processes to consider if they will depend too much on government support in the future).

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Application Process

Learn the steps in the SNAP application process

The SNAP application process involves completing and submitting an application, conducting an interview, and submitting required documents

  • Step 1

    • A household needs to apply for SNAP in the state where they live: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory 

    • Applications can be done online, over-the-phone, in-person or submitted by mail.

    • To start the application process, a household only needs to submit a name, mailing address, and signature. 

  • Step 2

    • An interview with an eligibility worker is scheduled and can be done over-the-phone or in-person. 

    • Many households will be asked to provide a form of identification, income verification like a paystub, and proof of certain expenses like utilities. 

  • Step 3

    • After the interview and required verification is submitted, a household will be determined eligible for SNAP. The state agency will send a letter to the household letting them know if they are eligible and what amount of benefits they will receive. 

    • States are required to complete the process within 30 days of when a household submits their application. For households with very little income and resources, their application is required to be expedited and processed within seven days.

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Receiving Benefits

How SNAP benefits are provided and how to use them

SNAP Benefits are provided on an EBT card that is mailed to a household or can be picked-up in-person. Initial benefits are prorated from the date an application is received and then provided on a monthly basis moving forward. Benefits are uploaded onto a household’s EBT card based on their state's issuance schedule often within the first nine days of the month.  

Benefits are used to purchase food at approved retailers. The USDA has a searchable database of stores that accept SNAP.  

SNAP is used to purchase food and food producing plants and seeds. Generally, SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase hot, ready-to-eat foods, however there are some states that provide this opportunity making SNAP more accessible to those experiencing houselessness and those with disabilities. 

Many farmers markets and some stores offer SNAP incentive programs providing a match to SNAP benefits to increase purchasing power for families - one example is Double Up Food Bucks.  

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Maintaining Benefits

The requirements for maintaining SNAP benefits after the initial application

Households are certified for SNAP for a period of time often between six and twelve months. At the end of the certification period, households need to re-apply for SNAP. In between, households are required to report if their income goes above a certain threshold and are encouraged to report if they have a change in their situation like an increase in costs that may qualify them for more benefits.

State agencies primarily communicate needed paperwork and requirements to families through the mail.

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Impacts of SNAP

SNAP is important for our communities

SNAP supports families, communities, and schools to thrive by:

  • Reducing food insecurity and hunger 

  • Keeping families and children out of poverty

  • Boosting local economies

    • SNAP is spent in the community it is received and often in the month of receipt. Every $1 in SNAP generates $1.54 in economic activity supporting local grocery stores and farmers.   

  • Improving health and education outcomes

    • Children with access to SNAP are likelier to be in good health and are at lower risk of developmental delays. Overall, SNAP participants incur nearly 25% less medical costs than low-income non-participants in a year. 

    • SNAP participation can lead to gains in reading and math skills for elementary children and increases the chance of high school graduation

  • Helping school finances

    • Kids enrolled in SNAP are directly certified for free school meals, meaning families don’t need to submit an application resulting in savings for school districts since they do not need to collect and verify this information. With more students qualified for free school meals, schools receive full reimbursement for these meals improving school meal program finances.