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How to Apply for Food Assistance

Did you know that more than 40 million low-income individuals and families receive benefits to help alleviate hunger and poor nutrition across the nation. This support is sponsored by the U.S. government and is carried out through several social assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The SNAP program provides food stamps on a monthly basis as a food assistance measure. If you’d like to learn more about the program, and if you're eligible to take advantage of this government benefit read on to find out more.

What Is SNAP (aka food stamps)?

SNAP food assistance comes from the Department of Agriculture (USDA), an agency that works with state agencies, nutrition educators, and faith-based and community organizations to ensure access to healthy food for those who qualify. More than 40 million people are benefiting from  this program, primarily through the distribution of funds via a dedicated bank card for purchasing food. 

Note that SNAP is the name of the program at the federal level, but the programs at the state level may have different names. In the case of California it goes by CalFresh, for example, or in the case of New Jersey it’s called the Food Stamp Program.

What you need to know: During the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be easier to get help from SNAP and other federal food benefit programs because the government has provided supplemental funding. In addition, it is now possible to enroll in these programs online, reducing the risks of contagion from the virus.

What Can You Buy With Food Assistance Stamps

If you are eligible to receive food assistance stamps, you can only use them to buy food authorized by SNAP. This includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, chicken and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Bread and cereals

What you should know: Using SNAP food assistance stamps to buy poor nutritional food, such as microwave food, is prohibited. You also cannot use these benefits to purchase products such as pet food, medications, alcoholic beverages, or cigarettes.

Where You Can Use Your Food Stamps

If you are registered to the SNAP program, you’ll be provided a card to receive your funds for food purchases. This card works similarly to a bank debit card and can only be used to buy food at SNAP-authorized stores.

To find out which stores are authorized, use this locator. Enter your address and you’ll be provided relevant SNAP authorized stores based on your location.

A Practical Guide To Applying For Food Assistance

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To apply for SNAP food assistance stamps, you need to meet a set of immigration status and income level requirements.

Income Requirements For SNAP Food Assistance

The financial requirements to be a beneficiary of SNAP may be different in each state, and the size of SNAP benefits is based both on income and expenses. Broadly speaking, the requirements can be summarized as follows:

  • Each applicant must show that his/her monthly income is below the poverty line, as set by the government. This amount varies each year and your place of residence and the size of your family are taken into account
  • There may be a limit to how much savings the applicant can have in their bank account, in many cases this is less than $ 2,250, although this amount may be higher in the case of older adults
  • The expenses of the applicants and their families are calculated as follows:
    • How many “head of the household” there are
    • If there are alimony payments
    • If there are drug expenses for disabled or retired people
    • If there are rent payments that exceed 50% of the applicant's total income

Immigration Requirements for SNAP Food Stamps

Your immigration status may not be an impediment to applying for SNAP food assistance stamps, however there may still be some requirements to keep in mind. Qualified immigrants must also meet ONE of the following conditions:

  • Be a legal resident and have lived in the US for at least 5 years (this does not apply across all states)
  • Be under 18 years of age and legally in the United States
  • Being an abused spouse or child with a pending or approved application to obtain an immigrant visa
  • Being an abused spouse or child who requested cancellation of your deportation
  • Have refugee or asylum status, or have your deportation withheld
  • Be an active member of the Armed Forces
  • Be the spouse or child of a veteran or active duty military man
  • Be a person with a disability who receives benefits through state or federal programs.

What you should know: If your children are minors with legal status but you do not share that same status you can still apply for food stamps for them. Be sure to point out that the financial aid will be for their benefit when you apply.

Applying For Food Assistance Stamps

It may take a little time to familiarize yourself with the process, however as you go through it you’ll find that it’s worth the time and energy as it can provide much needed support. As mentioned above, SNAP is the name of the federal food stamp program, however, as each state administers it with their own state agency, the program may be known by different names and have different eligibility requirements.

How to Submit An Application

Food assistance stamp applications are usually completed at your local Social Security office. However, due to the emergence of COVID-19, the government has made the applications available online. You can check your local office information at benefits.gov, or call the SNAP information line toll-free at 1 800 221 5689.

Food stamps in California

In California the program is called CalFresh. If you are a resident of this state and have questions about the program, you can consult the CalFresh guide for immigrants. If you want to know if you and your family members are eligible for food stamps, you can check here.

Food stamps in Texas

If you reside in the state of Texas and want to apply for SNAP food assistance stamps, you can check your eligibility on benefits.gov or go to the website of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), in charge of administering the SNAP program and the other food assistance programs in the state.

Food stamps in New York

If you live in New York State, you can find out about your eligibility at benefits.gov. If you reside in New York City, you can also consult this guide from the city's Human Resources Administration.

If you reside in a state we haven’t mentioned above you can check out the list of state programs here.

Additional types of food assistance

The SNAP food assistance stamp program is not the only program that’s been launched to combat hunger. There are other food assistance programs that mainly benefit children, pregnant women, young mothers, and older adults.

WIC Program for Women, Infants and Children

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) offers short-term help to pregnant women, mothers with infants of nursing age, and low-income children up to 5 years of age; who are provided with food, nutrition education and access to health and social services.

Free school meal programs

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The US government has several programs that provide healthy meals and meals for children from low-income households in their schools or day care centers. The primary ones are:

  • The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). These programs provide children with free or low-cost meals on the days they go to school
  • The Special Milk Program (SMP) is responsible for providing milk to children who go to eligible schools, daycare centers and camps
  • The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is responsible for providing free breakfasts and lunches to children during their summer vacation

What You Need to Know: During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents of children benefiting from these food assistance programs can collect school meals for their children at designated location, in order to eat at home.

Senior Citizen Food Programs

In addition to the programs we listed above - most states also offer food assistance programs for low-income seniors, including:

  • The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides coupons to buy vegetables, fresh fruits, honey and herbs at farmers markets and community farms. 
  • The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provides a monthly package of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, cheeses, cereals, meats, and fish, to older adults.

Note that participants must be 60 years or older for both of these programs. 

What you should know: Due to the public charge legislation implemented during the Trump administration, since October 15, 2019, benefiting from SNAP and other food assistance programs became a potential challenge for renewing a visa or applying for the residence card. However, on March 9, Joe Biden’s white house eliminated the “public charge”, so it will now be possible to access food stamps without fear of future consequences. So, all the more reason, go ahead and request your food stamps!

We hope this guide has been helpful to you in learning about your eligibility and applying for your SNAP food stamps. Remember that currently all applications can be made online on the relevant state SNAP agencies web page.

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