Since October 2008, the United States' Food Stamp Program has been known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Food stamps, or SNAP benefits as they are sometimes called, help low-income families put nutritious, healthy food on the table. Though local state agencies administer and process individual applications and oversee the distribution of food stamp benefits, eligibility standards are set at the federal level. The qualifications for food stamps include a household asset limit, two household income standards, work requirements for certain able-bodied applicants and legal U.S. residential status.
To participate in SNAP, applicants must submit an accounting of the household’s assets. Countable asset resources include cash, bank accounts, stocks and bonds. The asset qualifications for food stamps are subject to certain exemptions, including the value of a house and lot and, in some cases, the value of household vehicles. For SNAP eligibility, total countable assets may not exceed $2,000 US Dollars (USD) in total, or $3,000 USD if a member of the household is 60 or older.
Income qualifications for food stamps include two related measures for most households. First, a household’s gross monthly income must be equal to or below 130 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines. Second, a household’s net monthly income must be equal to or below 100 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines. There are several income deductions allowed, including two standard deductions applicable to most households and other deductions for certain medical expenses and child support payments. Federal poverty guidelines work on a sliding scale according to the size of the household in question.
In most cases, able-bodied adults without dependents who are age 18-50 must be employed or must participate in a formal employment training program to maintain food stamp benefits beyond three months in a 36-month period. Before food stamp benefits are distributed, potential recipients must meet locally instituted work and training registration requirements. For example, in Massachusetts, non-exempt SNAP applicants must enroll in a SNAP Food Stamp Work Program to receive benefits. Certain people are exempt from the work requirement, including the elderly and those who have children younger than 6 years old.
The last of the major qualifications for food stamps deals with an applicant’s residential status in the U.S. Any U.S. citizen who meets the preceding requirements and has a Social Security number is eligible for food stamp benefits. A limited number of non-citizens also are eligible for benefits, including those born in U.S. territories such as American Samoa, certain members of American Indian tribes and members of certain Hmong and Highland Laotian tribes living legally in the U.S. Non-citizens who have been granted asylum or refugee status in the U.S. might be eligible for SNAP benefits. Other qualified aliens also might be eligible.