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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) [Food Stamps] - Overview


Graphic of stylized grocery bag with food and acronym SNAP, along with words: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) is a Federal/State program to help low-income families buy the food they need to stay healthy, and be productive members of society. It provides low-income households with electronic benefits they can use like cash at most grocery stores to ensure that they have access to a healthy diet. SNAP is the cornerstone of the Federal food assistance programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers SNAP at the Federal level through its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). State agencies administer the program (sometimes under a different name) at State and local levels, including determination of eligibility and allotments.

NOTE: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009. This new law is also referred to as the "stimulus package" or Public Law 111-5. Among many other provisions, it contains changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was formerly called the Food Stamp program. There are many different state-specific names for this program.

Among many other changes to SNAP, ARRA raised monthly SNAP benefit levels and affected the status of Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs).

ARRA raised the maximum SNAP allotments by 13.6 percent of the June 2008 value of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) and provided that benefits could not fall below this level.


NOTE: On June 18, 2008, Congress enacted Public Law 110-246, The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (FCEA). Section 4100 includes a provision that renames the Food Stamp Program the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" or SNAP, and renames the Food Stamp Act of 1977 the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, effective October 1, 2008. State agencies may continue to use state-specific program names. Additionally, all except the last of the provisions below take effect on October 1, 2008.

Section 4102 contains a provision that raises the minimum standard deduction for households with one to three members from $134 to $144 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 and indexes it to inflation starting in FY 2010. (The standard deduction remains unchanged for larger households, which already receive a larger standard deduction indexed to inflation).

Section 4103 contains a provision that eliminates the cap on the deduction for dependent care expenses (currently $175 or $200 per month, depending on the dependent's age) and allows families eligible for the deduction to deduct the entire amount of dependent care expenses when calculating eligibility and benefit levels.

Section 4104(a) contains a provision that adjusts the current food stamp asset limits ($2,000 for most households and $3,000 for households with elderly or disabled members) by indexing the limits to inflation, rounded down to the nearest $250. Each adjustment is based on the unrounded amount for the prior 12-month period.

Section 4104(b) contains a provision that makes all tax-preferred education accounts (e.g., 529 Plans and Coverdell Accounts [also see the Educational Program Accounts topic for more information]) and retirement accounts (e.g., IRAs) resources excluded from countable resources in determining SNAP eligibility. It excludes any funds in a plan, contract, or account described in sections 401(a), 403(a), 403(b), 408, 408A, 457(b), and 501(c)(18) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and the value of funds in a Federal Thrift Savings Plan account as provided for in 5 U.S.C. 8439. It also provides for the exclusion of any successor retirement accounts that are exempt from Federal taxes.

Section 4107 contains a provision that increases the minimum benefit for one- and two-person households from $10 to eight percent of the maximum SNAP allotment for a household containing one member. This maximum may vary for outlying states based on the applicable maximum allotment. Since the maximum SNAP allotment is indexed to inflation, the minimum benefit will increase with annual increases in the maximum allotment.

Section 4115(a) contains a provision that prohibits State agencies from issuing paper coupons as of the date of enactment, June 18, 2008. This provision also de-obligates paper coupons as legal tender one year from this date. Therefore, food stamp coupons may no longer be redeemed at stores after June 17, 2009. In addition, the provision requires that Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards be the sole method of delivery as of June 18, 2009.

This topic discusses many aspects of SNAP. You may read the topic in sequence or jump to a specific section by following the links below:

                   Income and Resource Standards

                   Benefit Levels

                   Work Rules

                   Citizenship and Alien Rules

                   Operating Area


                   National Hotline

                   State Hotline/Information Numbers

                   Online Screening Tool

                   Additional Information

Income and Resource Standards.

Gives households who meet income and resource standards an allotment to buy food in approved food stores. (In all States now, SNAP users receive a debit card, which allows them to spend their benefits on food in approved food stores through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system.) Households must meet eligibility requirements for both resource limits and gross and net monthly income levels, and provide proof of their statements about household circumstances.

Benefit Levels.

Gives up to $200 a month in food stamp benefits (called an allotment) to a person who lives by himself and has essentially no income. Households with more than one person get less for each person because of economies of scale. For example, a 4-person household could get up to $668 a month. Households with income are expected to use about 30 percent of their own money for food; those households will get less per person than households with no income. The average monthly benefit in Fiscal Year 2009 (the latest year figures are available) was about $125 per person and $276 per household. The amounts shown in this paragraph are in effect for the Federal Fiscal Year 2012, beginning October 1, 2011. Maximum allotments in Hawaii and Alaska are higher, reflecting higher food prices in those areas.

Work Rules.

With some exceptions, most adults between 16 and 60 must register for work, accept suitable employment, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred by the food stamp office. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in disqualification from the Program.

In addition, adults not otherwise exempted between 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children can get SNAP only for 3 months in a 36-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search. These people are called "able-bodied adults without dependents", or ABAWDs. Other members of the household may continue to get SNAP even if this person is disqualified.

The work requirement for ABAWDs can be waived in some locations. A State agency may exempt up to 15 percent of its ABAWD population from the three-month time limit. Additionally, a State agency may request that the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) waive the three-month time limit for ABAWDs residing in areas of the State which have an unemployment rate of over 10 percent or which do not have sufficient jobs to provide employment for the ABAWDs.

The ABAWD work requirement does not apply to ABAWDs who reside in areas of a State granted a waiver of the three-month time limit, or to ABAWDs who are included in a State agency's 15 percent exemption allowance. All remaining ABAWDs are "at risk," meaning they are subject to the ABAWD work requirement in order to maintain eligibility for SNAP beyond 3 months.

Citizenship and Alien Rules.

The Food Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2002 provided for partial restoration of benefits to legal immigrants, with various effective dates. This provision restored food stamp eligibility to qualified aliens who are otherwise eligible AND who:

                   are receiving disability benefits regardless of date of entry (previous law required them to have been in the country on 8/22/96) effective FY 2003;

                   are under 18 regardless of date of entry (previous law limited eligibility to children who were in the country on 8/22/96) -- effective FY 2004 & beyond; or

                   have lived in the U.S. continuously for 5 years as a qualified alien beginning on date of entry -- effective April 2003.

Effective FY 2004, the provision also eliminated the deeming requirements for immigrant children that count the income and resources of the immigrant's sponsor when determining SNAP eligibility and benefit amounts for the immigrant child.

Most non-citizens were ineligible until a recent change in Federal law. The Law expands SNAP eligibility for several groups of non-citizens effective November 1, 1998. Most non-citizens who were lawfully in the United States on August 22, 1996, and who are receiving Supplemental Security (SSI) payments will be eligible for SNAP if their household meets all other SNAP eligibility requirements.

The period of eligibility for SNAP has been expanded from five years to seven years after admitted or granted status in the U. S. for many non-citizens. These include refugees, asylees, deportees (who have had their deportation withheld), Cubans, Haitians, and Amerasians.

There is no time limit for certain other non-citizens who have been admitted for permanent residence, including immigrants with credit for 40 quarters of work in this country, individuals with a military connection (veteran, active duty, spouse, or children), or a battered spouse, battered child or parent or child of a battered person. Others include individuals in the U. S. on 8/22/96, who are now under 18 years of age, or are disabled or blind as defined by the Food Stamp Act, or were 65 years of age or older at that time.

Additionally, certain members of other groups may be eligible for an indefinite period of time. These include an individual who is lawfully residing in the U. S. and was a member of a Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe at the time that tribe rendered assistance to the U. S. by taking part in a military operation or rescue operation during the Vietnam era beginning August 5, 1964 and ending May 7, 1975 and their spouse and dependent children. Also included are American Indians born in either Canada or Mexico.

Proof of citizenship is required if it is questionable. Alien status must be verified. See Section 402 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 for more details. Recent eligibility changes are contained in the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998.

Operating Area.

SNAP operates in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Operated by State and local welfare offices, generally at the county level. The Federal Government oversees the State operation of the Program.

National Hotline.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a toll-free number, 1-800-221-5689, that people can call to get information about eligibility and benefits in SNAP. Callers using the number will reach a voice mail box where they can leave their name and address to receive information by mail about SNAP, including eligibility requirements, level of benefits, and other details about how the program works.

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).

State Hotline/Information Numbers.

See the SNAP (Food Stamp) State Information/Hotline Numbers topic for a list of State level resource centers. Because some of the rules are extremely complex and there are so many differences between (and within) the States, they may be able to offer guidance about them for your particular State. Additionally, they can tell you how to contact your local SNAP agency to determine your specific eligibility requirements and benefits amount.

Online Screening Tool.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service online SNAP Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool logo

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service operates an online SNAP Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool, called SNAP Step 1, which can help you determine if you may be eligible to receive SNAP benefits. To access this tool from the Internet, go to:

Additional Information.

Some states use different names for SNAP. See the Names of State SNAP (Food Stamp) Programs topic for more information.

Food Stamp coupons are no longer being produced or issued by states and inventories are being destroyed. However, coupons that have already been issued will continue to be honored until June 17, 2009. All states now use some form of Electronic Benefit Transfer to deliver SNAP benefits.

See the SNAP (Food Stamp) Sample Calculations topic for a simple example of eligibility and benefit computations.

People with disabilities, for whom WorkWORLD was written, may wish to review the topic "SNAP (Food Stamp) Special Rules for Elderly People or People With Disabilities", which contains a substantial amount of information about the general operation of SNAP.

The State Employment and Training Handbook (revised May 2003), produced by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, provides substantial information about the various employment and training requirements of the SNAP (Food Stamp) program. It is produced primarily as a guide for preparing state employment and training plans, and is available in PDF format (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) online at:

The Food Stamp Act governs the Food Stamp Program. The current law was enacted in 1977, and is amended regularly. The U.S. Senate staff maintains a compilation of the Act, as amended. It is available in PDF format (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) online at:

SNAP (Food Stamp) Rules (regulations) are published by the Federal Register in the Code of Federal Regulations, 7 C.F.R., Parts 271 through 283. The CFR is updated in January each year. The Federal Register maintains rules published in between annual publication of the CFR on its web site. The SNAP parts of the CFR are available online at:

A list of States with waivers of able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) work requirements (7 CFR 273.24), along with the type of waiver, localities covered, and effective dates is available online in PDF format (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) at:

See also:

SNAP (Food Stamp) State Application Forms Online

SNAP (Food Stamp) State Information/Hotline Numbers

Names of State SNAP (Food Stamp) Programs

WIC - Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children - Overview


Information in this topic was drawn from USDA website pages at:

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