The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, is designed to help low-income families purchase food. Because the program is administered on the state level, and each state has its own requirements for program eligibility, the effect of getting a job on your benefits can vary from state to state.
Know the Qualifications
In general, to qualify for food stamps, your income must be equal to or less than 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for your household size. However, some states have increased the eligibility thresholds to as much as two times the federal poverty guidelines. This means that households with higher incomes can still qualify for assistance. If you qualified for food stamps while you were unemployed, you may still qualify even though you are now employed, if your increased income still falls within the stated income guidelines. However, if your income once you get a job is over the limit, you lose your food stamp benefits.
Understand Benefits May Decrease
When you qualify for food stamps based on your income, the amount of money you receive every month is calculated based on your household income, household size and your expected food budget. In general, you are expected to cover at least 30 percent of your household food costs yourself, and food stamps will supplement that budget. If you get a job, and your income increases but you still qualify for assistance, expect that your monthly benefit will decrease. The actual amount of your new benefit depends on how much you earn at your job.
Fulfill the Employment Requirement
In some cases, you may be required to look for or accept employment in order to qualify for food stamps. Federal law requires that anyone ages 18 to 50, who is not disabled and does not have children, to participate in an education and training program, work part time or actively seek work in order to receive food stamps. If you meet those criteria and do not look for work, you can only receive food stamps for a limited time. Once you do get a job, you will be subject to the income guidelines for food stamp eligibility and may lose your benefits, or keep them at a reduced rate, depending on how much you earn.
If you receive food stamps, you are required by law to report any changes to your income or household circumstances to the state. Failing to report these changes, such as getting a job, can lead to serious consequences; not only will you lose your food stamp benefits, but you might face fraud charges and have to pay fines or repay the benefits you received. When you receive food stamps, it is generally for a defined period, and you have to re-qualify at regular intervals. If you get a job during the time you’re on food stamps, you have to report that change during the re-qualification process.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.