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SNAP food stamp program provides assistance to pay for groceries and food.

The federal government funded SNAP program, which is officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, was created to help low income individuals and families buy the food as well as groceries that they need on a monthly basis. This is the primary USDA benefit for preventing hunger of working poor families. It was formally called the food stamps program. While the federal government provides the money to pay for the program, SNAP is administered by state governments or local agencies, and find where and how to apply below.

Almost 40 million people across the nation receive helping in purchasing food, groceries, and other financial aid from the program every month. They include single mothers, senior citizens, the disabled, and families facing a short term hardship. Many other people can benefit from it but do not realize they are eligible. While each state will have its own criteria for both determining who can apply and who is eligible, in general SNAP food stamps are available for both U.S. citizens and are also eligible for certain non citizens. Many of the people that benefit from the service are senior citizens or the disabled that are living on a fixed income, such as a pension or SSI.

However, the recipient or applicant needs to have a limited income. In order to use the EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card that is issued as part of the SNAP food stamp program, they need to buy food at a store and make the meals at home. It does not pay for hot meals or restaurants. In addition keep in mind that individuals and families who are currently living in battered women's or homeless shelters as well as drug/alcohol treatment centers may able to be qualified for assistance. Certain other group living arrangements are also eligible to apply.

The program is meant to take care of families as well, so even if you are not eligible yourself, then you can still apply for your children, extended family members or other household members. So this means that someone caring for a sick person or a caregiver can also apply as they may be eligible for SNAP.

The amount of financial assistance provided from the EBT card can vary by state as well. For most adults who meet the conditions for the government food stamp program, who are between the ages of 18 and 50 and who do not have a child in the home, SNAP benefits are usually limited to 3 to 6 months of support. The EBT card will help them buy the food they need in a 3-year period of time. However some states or applicants can receive assistance for as short as 1 month or as long as 3 years.




Certain changes that were implemented to the food stamp program a few years ago encourage low income people to work. When this is done, the benefit period in which financial help is available can be extended to be a longer timeframe if the adult is either in a job or training program of if they work at least 20 hours a week. There can be exceptions made though.

Not all people who apply or get an extension necessarily need to work. Some individuals may not have to work at all to get benefits or an extension to their SNAP aid, such as those who are pregnant or have a disability. There may also be exceptions made for single mothers with a young child. A renewal application is typically sent from the government agency to a family getting SNAP before the end of each benefit period.

Emergency SNAP Benefits

Many states provide so called emergency SNAP benefits. Some people from time to time face a crisis or some form of financial emergency, and they need to keep food on the table during this timeframe. The application process can be accelerated for a crisis situation occurs. There are also online applications for food stamps accepted in some states. This is another issue that lead to the creation of the SNAP program many years ago. An emergency situation may include.

  • An applicant with limited resources at their disposal, and a total household income that is less than their most recent monthly expenses for paying their monthly utility bill, and rent or mortgage payment.
  • If the individual or family has almost run out of money, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program may be able to help. For example, if the individuals has $100 or less, and an extremely limited monthly recurring income, food stamps can be offered to this low income applicant.
  • A family or individual that includes a seasonal or migrant farm worker who has $100 or less in resources and very little income can turn to SNAP for aid.





There is also emergency help available when food stamp benefits have been reduced or stopped. This  can happen as state government's reduce their entitlement programs or when the enrollment qualifications change. Everything from charities to government organizations may offer alternatives, and find help when food stamps are cut or stopped.

How does the food stamp program work

The amount of food covered by SNAP is fairly extensive. It will never pay for prepared items though. USDA food stamp benefits can be used to buy almost any type of groceries for you and your family to eat. It will include items from supermarkets, convenience stores, grocery stores, and places like Walmart or Target.

Probably some of the only things to keep in mind that SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy are alcoholic beverages and tobacco, medicines and vitamins, hot foods, and nonfood item, such as soaps, household supplies, pet foods, or paper products. An EBT card issued as part of food stamps will also not pay for grooming type items and supplies such as cosmetics and toothpaste. So receipts are not able to buy prepared food using the vouchers or debit card that they will be provided with.

Some of the most recently bought items from the SNAP food stamp program include everyday food and groceries (that are not hot meals or “ready to eat”), baby formula, water, fresh produce, dairy products, eggs, weight loss products such as Nutrisystem, Dynatrim, Slim Fast, Cambridge Diet, and other standard grocery type items. Single mothers are dad can also use it to buy formula or other items for their baby. So all of these items are in effect free as they are covered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Families with a very low income, and that are facing an emergency, can apply for the expedited food stamp service. It is available in most states. What will happen is the application will be reviewed within at most 7 days. At the end of that period of time the individual may be issued an EBT card that they can use to pay for groceries and non-perishable goods. Learn more on the emergency food stamp program.

Qualifications required

The general rules are set by the federal government, however each individual state will have its own guidelines in place. Usually some form of income requirement is in effect, and applicants also need to be working or looking for employment. Families can also apply online or in person. Read more about, and find details on guidelines for food stamp eligibility.

After an applicants eligibility for food stamps and SNAP is determined, the assistance will start to be issued. The individuals approved food stamp benefits will be automatically deposited into an account each and every month on a fixed schedule. In order to use the account to, the program participant will be provided with a Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. They need this when they shop.

Basically the EBT card is the same as a traditional debit card. It makes it very easy for the family to pay for the groceries and supplies they need. Each and every time that the EBT card is used to buy food or groceries, the account will be reduced by the cost of those groceries that are bought.

Families can also use their EBT card to shop at “non-traditional locations, such as Farmers Markets. This benefit will allow the recipient to receive even fresher items, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and even seeds for plants to start their own garden. The income criteria for this SNAP benefit is the same as that for the underlying food stamp program, and find information on the Farmers Market SNAP program.

If your local social service office denied the application, or they refuse to pay the amount that the family expected to receive, the applicant can appeal the decision. Every household, whether they are elderly, disabled, or living in poverty, can force the government to take a second look at their application to SNAP food stamps. There is agencies and law firms that help with the appeal process. Find details on appealing food stamp denials.







Apply for SNAP food stamps

If you want to learn more or apply for SNAP food stamps, contact your local social service office, community action agency or a non-profit organization in your state or county. Applications can also be completed online or over the phone. Find a listing of community action agencies and non-profits. Or the main customer service numbers by state are as follows.

  • Alabama - 334-242-1310
  • Alaska - 907-465-3347
  • Arizona - 1-800-352-8401
  • Arkansas - 1-800-482-8988
  • California - 1-877-847-3663
  • Colorado - 1-800-536-5298
  • Connecticut - 1-860-424-5030
  • Delaware - 1-800-372-2022
  • District of Columbia - 202-671-4200
  • Florida - 1-866-762-2237
  • Georgia- 1-877-423-4746
  • Guam - 671-735-7245
  • Hawaii - 1-855-643-1643
  • Idaho - 1-877-456-1233
  • Illinois - 1-800-843-6154
  • Indiana - 1-877-768-5098
  • Iowa - 1-877-347-5678
  • Kansas - 1-888-369-4777
  • Kentucky - 1-800-372-2970
  • Louisiana - 1-888-524-3578
  • Maine - 1-800-442-6003
  • Maryland - 1-800-332-6347
  • Massachusetts - 1-800-249-2007
  • Michigan - 1-855-275-6424
  • Minnesota - 1-888-711-1151
  • Mississippi - 1-800-948-3050
  • Missouri - 1-855-373-4636
  • Montana - 1-800-332-2272
  • Nebraska - 1-800-383-4278
  • Nevada - 1-800-992-0900
  • New Hampshire - 1-800-852-3345
  • New Jersey - 1-800-792-9773
  • New Mexico - 1-800-843-8303
  • New York - 1-800-342-3009
  • North Carolina - 1-866-719-0141
  • North Dakota - 1-800-755-2716
  • Ohio - 1-866-244-0071
  • Oklahoma - 1-866-411-1877
  • Oregon - 1-800-723-3638
  • Pennsylvania - 1-800-692-7462
  • Puerto Rico - 877-991-0101
  • Rhode Island - 401-462-5300
  • South Carolina - 1-800-616-1309
  • South Dakota - 1-877-999-5612
  • Tennessee - 1-866-311-4287
  • Texas - 1-877-541-7905
  • Utah - 1-866-526-3663
  • Vermont - 1-800-479-6151





  • Virgin Islands - 1-340-774-2399
  • Virginia - 1-800-552-3431
  • Washington - 1-877-501-2233
  • West Virginia - 1-800-642-8589
  • Wisconsin - 1-800-362-3002
  • Wyoming - 307-777-5846

By Jon McNamara

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