Everything You Need to Know about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

With unemployment rates still stuck above 3%, many are looking to government programs to get back on their feet. The most noticeable of these is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. 

SNAP is the most effective anti-hunger program in the US. It is 100% funded by the federal government and administered by states. As of 2021, over 41 million low-income Americans were getting SNAP assistance to purchase nutritious food every month.

But you must know how everything works if you plan to participate. So, what exactly is it, who qualifies, what does it cover, and how can you apply? Here's an essential guide for SNAP.

What Is SNAP?

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an initiative by the government that offers crucial nutritional support to low-income working families, older persons (60 years and older), people with disabilities living on fixed incomes, and other households with low incomes.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the program through its extensive network of FNS field offices. Each local field office is responsible for the licensing and oversight of the retail food establishments participating in the program.

As the most extensive and responsive nutrition assistance program, it offers additional aid during and after economic downturns, second only to unemployment insurance. In fact, at least half of SNAP recipients within 50 to 59 years live in homes with elderly or disabled members, and about two-thirds are members of families with children.

SNAP provides very specific benefits in the form of food assistance. Participants in the program, including individuals and families, are given electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards they can use to purchase food items from authorized grocery stores, convenience stores, and sometimes even farmer's markets.

Who Qualifies?

Unlike the majority of means-tested benefit programs, which are only available to specific groups of low-income people, SNAP is widely accessible to those with low incomes. 

While states have the latitude to tweak elements, like the value of a vehicle a household may own and still qualify for benefits, SNAP eligibility and benefit levels are primarily determined at the federal level and remain uniform across the country. 

Eligibility for SNAP is based on a household's gross income, net income, and size. Therefore, to be eligible for SNAP, families must meet certain income and asset limits:

  • A household income at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. For example, A household of four people can have a gross monthly income of no more than $3,526, or a net monthly income of no more than $2,676, to qualify.
  • Households must have less than $2,250 in countable resources, such as cash, savings, and checking accounts.
  • U.S. citizenship or qualifying immigration status, you must reside in the District of Columbia or one of the 50 states.

What Does SNAP Cover?

Each month, participants receive SNAP benefits based on their eligibility. 

While you cannot use SNAP benefits to pay for alcohol, tobacco, or pet food, you can use them to buy a wide variety of other food items, including:

  • Bread and cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meats, poultry, and fish
  • Dairy products

The program additionally offers guidance and information on nutrition to help participants meet dietary goals. 

How to Apply for SNAP

Every state creates its SNAP application procedure while adhering to federal regulations. People can apply in person at their neighborhood SNAP office or via mail. Additionally, almost all states offer an online application. 

Candidates must participate in an eligibility interview frequently over the phone. They must also provide documentation regarding several other things, such as their identity, place of residence, immigration status, household composition, income, and assets. 

Due to the SNAP benefit formula, lower-income households can receive more significant benefits than those closer to the poverty line. Additionally, individuals must periodically reapply for SNAP, usually every six to twelve months for most families and every twelve to twenty-four months for the elderly and the disabled.

Being the largest federally funded nutrition assistance program in the United States, SNAP has been of help to most low-income families and individuals with limited resources to purchase nutritious food. Visit benefits.gov to learn more or find information specific to your state.