Food stamps benefits in the United States are provided the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP food benefits are funded by the federal government but administered separately by each state or territory. The program was first established in the 1930s but was not available in every part of the nation until the 1970s. SNAP benefits aim to help low income people get access to food products. This program is not meant to replace the beneficiaries’ entire food budget. It is meant to supplement their existing access to nutritious food products. The mission of the SNAP program is to prevent the disease and disorders that can occur from malnourishment. The benefits for food stamps program can be used to purchase almost any item that provides substance to the beneficiary. However, the program does have restrictions on what can and cannot be purchased with food benefits.
The food stamps benefits enrollment process is a relatively simple one. Most states will notify a SNAP applicant in a short amount of time, updating them of their enrollment status. EBT cards are issued to applicants who have been accepted into the program. After the beneficiaries have received their benefits card food stamps can be used to buy groceries at participating retailers. The amount of SNAP assistance a beneficiary receives is dependent upon many factors, including income levels. To learn more about the SNAP food benefits program and how to get an EBT benefits card, review the information below.
Learn About Food Items You Can Purchase With SNAP
Many types of items can be bought with SNAP food benefits including the following:
- Dairy products
- Fruits and vegetables
- Breads and cereals
- Meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
Food stamps benefits can be used to buy seeds or plants that will be planted and grown for food. Food assistance can also be used to buy ‘junk’ or ‘luxury’ items such as candy, snacks, soda, lobster and steak. While live seafood may be purchased with food benefits, living animals such as barnyard chickens may not be acquired with food stamps benefits even if they will be used for food.
Note: Learn how to differentiate between qualifying and ineligible food items by downloading our guide.
Learn About Items You Cannot Buy With SNAP Benefits
SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy items that are harmful to one’s health or are non-food items. The following list includes items that the food stamps assistance program has deemed ineligible:
- Cigarettes and tobacco products
- Pet food
- Household items
- Cleaning supplies
- Vitamins and medicines
- Hot or prepared meals
While hot or prepared meals may provide food stamps recipients with nourishment, the SNAP program is meant to assist beneficiaries in having access to food that will be brought home to be prepared and eaten. SNAP assistance does not cover vitamins and medicines even if they help the beneficiary’s health as these products are not technically food items. Attempting to buy these ineligible items with cash withdrawn from an EBT card can result in criminal charges.
How long does it take to receive SNAP benefits after enrollment?
Most SNAP benefits applicants in every state will receive notification of enrollment in 30 days. First, food stamps benefits petitioners will have to submit a food stamps application and sit for an interview. In cases of severe need, the applicant will be enrolled in under a week. If denied, the applicant can file an appeal. If enrolled, the beneficiary will receive an EBT card in the mail.
All food stamps applications in each state require applicants to give many points of personal information such as their income level, assets and living situation. Lying or fiving false information during the SNAP enrollment process is considered food stamps fraud and is a criminal offense that comes with prison sentences.
EBT Card Overview
SNAP food benefits are accessed through an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. This food stamps benefits card acts like a debit card at cash registers and approved ATMs. However, EBT cards cannot be used at ATMS inside liquor stores, gambling facilities, marijuana dispensaries or adult entertainment venues. Certain states allow the food stamps benefits card to be used at farmer’s markets or with the Meals on Wheels program.
All food stamps recipients should keep their EBT card in safe location as any benefits used by someone who has stolen their card will not be replaced. If a SNAP recipient uses up his or her benefits, he or she will have to wait until the next deposit to receive more benefits. Trading or selling an EBT card is a serious offense.
Learn About SNAP Benefit Amounts
Not all of those who receive benefits from the food stamps program get the same amount of benefits. Income and household size are the two largest factors that are used to determine benefits amounts. Generally, higher earning food stamps recipients will receive less food assistance than those who earn less. Also, larger families will receive more benefits than smaller families or single individuals. Many states will also look at assets such as bank accounts and property owned by the recipient to determine the benefits amount.
Usually, able-bodied adult food stamps enrollees will have to work or be enrolled in a work program to maintain enrollment. Those who are elderly or have a disability will have different criteria for enrollment and benefits amounts than other enrollees. SNAP benefits do not need to be used up each month but those who do not use a significant portion of their food benefits in a 12-month period will face disenrollment from the program.