Key Takeaways

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the largest domestic hunger safety net program, helping low-income older adults achieve food security. 

  • Approximately three out of five seniors who qualify to receive SNAP are missing out on benefits—an estimated 5 million people in all.

  • For older adults with low income, the $1,248 in average annual benefits can mean the difference between having food and going without.

In 2019, more than 5 million older adults did not have reliable access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food. Due to economic issues and the need for social distancing, the problem of food insecurity has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a lifeline for seniors who might otherwise face hunger, malnutrition, and the stress of not being able to put enough food on their table.

What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP is a U.S. government program that helps individuals and families buy the food they need to maintain good health. As the largest domestic anti-hunger program, SNAP provides supplemental funds that allow many older adults to stretch their budget further. This is because the money they would have spent on food can now be applied toward other critical needs—such as utilities and medical bills.

Take Jane, for example. Jane is 89 and in poor health due to cancer. About her monthly SNAP benefits, she told NCOA:

"The food stamps I get help me buy the healthy foods I need to keep my strength up. I really rely on them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables."

SNAP benefits are transferred to recipients via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. This prepaid card can be used just like a debit card to purchase eligible food in most grocery stores and other retail stores that sell food. Many farmer’s markets throughout America also participate in SNAP.

What is the average SNAP benefit for seniors?

The average SNAP benefit for a one-person senior household is $104 per month. This includes the SNAP increase in 2021, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a change to the way food costs are calculated. Beginning October 1, 2021, households that received SNAP assistance saw an average 25% increase in their monthly benefits.

What can SNAP benefits be used for?

Food that can be purchased with a SNAP card includes fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, and fish; breads and cereals; dairy products; snack foods; and non-alcoholic beverages. SNAP assistance can also be used to buy seeds and plants to grow food for a household.

There are also clear rules about what you cannot buy with a SNAP card. These benefits can't be used to buy alcohol and tobacco products; vitamins and supplements; and other nonfood items (including pet food).

Who is eligible for SNAP assistance?

SNAP assistance is open to anyone who meets its eligibility requirements, from young families to older adults living on their own. Each state has different criteria that govern benefits. Typically, a certain threshold for household income must be met, and household assets must fall below a specific amount. BenefitsCheckup.org has a handy interactive map you can use to find SNAP benefit amounts by state, SNAP income limits, and other information.

What are the SNAP income limits for 2022?

In most cases, your household must meet both the gross and net income limits in order to qualify for benefits. For an older adult living alone, that income is $1,396 in gross income and $1,074 in net income. For a two-person household, the SNAP income limit is $1,888 in gross income and $1,452 in net income. SNAP defines an "older adult" as anyone age 60 or older.

What is the SNAP schedule for 2022?

“When do my SNAP benefits go on my card?” is a common question among SNAP recipients. SNAP payment dates for 2022 are determined by each individual state; there's no nationwide schedule. In most states, benefits are deposited on the same day each month. To learn about SNAP payment dates for 2022 in your state, visit the USDA SNAP Directory. There, you can find the contact information for your local SNAP office.

What is the SNAP cost of living adjustment for 2022?

SNAP benefit amounts are adjusted at the start of each federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1. These changes are based on the cost of living (COL), or the amount of money needed to support a basic standard of living.

For fiscal year 2022, maximum allotments increased for the 48 U.S. states and D.C., Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Families of four have a maximum allotment of $835 if they are in the 48 contiguous states and Washington D.C. For the rest of the U.S.:

  • In Alaska, a family of four will receive a maximum of $1,074-$1,667.
  • In Hawaii, a family of four will receive a maximum of $1,573.
  • In Guam, a family of four will receive a maximum of $1,231.
  • In the U.S. Virgin Islands, a family of four will receive a maximum of $1,074.

What is the SNAP excess medical expense deduction?

Some older adults may be able to take advantage of deductions for other expenses, including the excess medical expense deduction. Older adults who spend more than $35 a month on out-of-pocket medical costs may be able to deduct that from their gross income when applying for SNAP. This can result in a higher monthly payment. Many seniors who qualify for the excess medical expense deduction don’t use it, potentially missing out on a big increase in benefits. See our fact sheet to learn more about this important deduction.

Don’t assume you’re not eligible for SNAP assistance

Nationally, about 4.8 million older adults (age 60+) are enrolled in SNAP. Yet this figure represents less than half of the people who are eligible. Approximately three out of five seniors who qualify to receive SNAP are forfeiting benefits—an estimated 5 million people!

Don’t miss out on valuable assistance that can help improve your quality of life. You have nothing to lose by learning if you or a loved one is eligible for SNAP.

In fact, you could gain a lot—including all the health benefits that come from eating enough and eating well.

How do I apply for SNAP?

To find out if you’re eligible for SNAP assistance, you must apply to the agency that manages the program in your state of residence. You may be able to apply by mail, by phone, or online. Depending on your state, the SNAP application may ask about:

  • The size of your household
  • Your annual income
  • Any assets you have (e.g., cash, property)

Additional information may be required to help determine the amount of SNAP assistance you receive. While you may be hesitant to provide this type of personal information online, rest assured that SNAP applications are protected by special security technology that keeps your information private.

Processing your SNAP application can take up to 30 days. In some cases, your local SNAP office may reach out to ask you additional questions before they make a final decision regarding benefits.

How can I find out if I qualify for SNAP?

NCOA offers a free, easy-to-use screening tool that can tell you if you qualify before you fill out a SNAP application. Simply go to BenefitsCheckUp.org/GetSNAP and select your state of residence.

If you are eligible for SNAP benefits, we’ll also give you all the information you need to apply. You can do it yourself—or find someone to walk you through the SNAP application process step by step.