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SNAP FAQ: What Is It and How Do You Apply?

Confused about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or have questions about income requirements and what to expect on the application? Check out our latest video to get answers.

 

Good morning from Arlington, Virginia! My name is Lura Barber, and I’m the director of Hunger Initiatives for the National Council on Aging. We’re taking a few minutes to discuss something we get lots of questions about on Facebook—a program called SNAP. It’s something we think is very important for older adults.

What is the SNAP program?

SNAP is the more common name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP used to be called Food Stamps. In some states it has a different name. In California, for example, they call it CalFresh, and in Florida, Suncap. No matter which name you know, the program is really valuable. It helps nearly 5 million older Americans afford food at their local markets. SNAP’s goal is to help people with limited income maintain a healthy and nutritious diet. You probably know someone who uses it.

The average SNAP benefit for a one-person senior household is about $110 a month. A two-person household can receive up to $357 a month. Eligible older adults receive at least $15 a month from the program.

Unfortunately, 5 million older adults are eligible for SNAP, but are not enrolled in the program. You could be one of them. This could be because you don’t know how to apply, or what information you’ll need. We’re here to help with that.

How to apply for SNAP

To receive SNAP, you must apply to the agency that administers the program in your state. Let’s talk about what information you need to find out if you’re eligible.

We know that you are often warned against sharing personal information, but don’t worry. The information you share on the SNAP application is kept completely confidential throughout the process. Depending on where you live, the SNAP application is going to ask you about two – possibly three – main things: the size of your household, your annual income, and in some states, information about your assets. Eligibility and benefit amounts are based on these factors. Other factors can also help you qualify for SNAP or increase your benefit amount. We’ll get to those in a minute.

Defining your household

First, the application will ask about the size of your household. For SNAP, a household is all of the people who live with you AND prepare food with you. If you live with someone, but you do your own food shopping and cook your own meals, you are considered a single-person household. This means only your information would be considered.

Income guidelines and qualifications

When you’re asked about your income, it’s your NET income that matters. This means you’ll need to know all of your income, and then subtract the costs of shelter, utilities, and medical expenses. That last one is broader than you might think. Medical expenses include any costs you pay for doctor’s visits, prescriptions, medical equipment, and dental care—as long as those costs aren’t reimbursed by insurance or another program. Paying all of these costs leaves less money in your budget for food, so that’s why you can deduct them. To qualify, your income after deductions can’t be more than $981 a month if you live alone, or $1,328 if you live in a two-person household.

Asset requirements

In a lot of states, this is all the information you’ll need to apply. But there are some states that also look at your household’s assets when determining eligibility. They won’t ask about the house you live in or your car. They just want to know about other assets you own like a savings account or a second car. The amount of allowable assets varies by state.

The value of SNAP

So what can all of this get you? Well, don’t forget that the average amount a single person qualifies for is about $110 a month. You can use this money at a local grocery store. Many convenience stores accept SNAP, too. And during the summer months, many local farmer’s markets even double SNAP amounts.

I think you’re ready. It’s time to gather all the information we’ve discussed, and start the application process. If you want to see if you qualify before you fill out an application, we have a screening tool to help. Once you have all of your information handy, go to BenefitsCheckUp.org/GetSNAP and select your state. If you qualify, we’ll also give you all the information you need to apply, whether you want to do it yourself, or find someone to help you.

Don’t assume you don’t qualify for SNAP. You have nothing to lose by seeing if you’re eligible. In fact, you have a lot to possibly gain.

Ready to apply for SNAP? Get started now.

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Lura Barber

About Lura Barber

Lura Barber is Director of Hunger Initiatives at the National Council on Aging. Her work focuses on SNAP and improving food security for older adults.

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