The process to apply for and receive food stamps varies by state. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, nearly 43 million people in the U.S. access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which provides food stamps. If you need nutritional assistance, you can sign up for the SNAP program through their local Department of Health and Human Services, or DHHS.
After you've completed your SNAP paperwork and in-person interview, Social Services will begin to process your application. The length of time varies by state, however, you can typically expect to be approved or denied within 30 days.
Timeline to Receive Food Stamps
Before receiving food stamps, an individual must make an appointment with a DHHS caseworker after submitting an application for the SNAP program. During the interview, the caseworker will review the household’s income, eligibility for the program and employment status. Generally, during the interview, the DHHS caseworker can tell the applicant how much his family can receive per month in food stamps. Depending on the state the applicant lives in, he will receive his food stamps right away or within 30 days. A state that has a 30-day approval period before issuing food stamp benefits may provide expedited benefits in as little as seven days to those who need emergency food or have a qualifying income.
Electronic Benefit Transfer Card
Those who receive SNAP benefits receive an electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, card that works similarly to a debit card. SNAP beneficiaries receive a predetermined amount of funds on an EBT card, which they can use at a grocery or convenient store for the purchase of eligible food items. The amount an individual spends on food at a grocery store gets deducted from the balance on the EBT card.
In a state that provides food stamps immediately after a DHHS interview, a client will receive her EBT card during the meeting with the appropriate amount of funds on the card. Alternatively, in states that have an approval period, a client may receive an EBT card during the DHHS interview, but it will not have any funds applied to it until the approval of the application. A SNAP client receives the same amount of food benefits every month as long the household qualifies for the program.
SNAP Program Eligibility
To be eligible for food stamps, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident of the U.S. Those who receive Supplemental Security Income through the Social Security Administration and homeless children and teens may also qualify for the SNAP program. According to the USDA, an eligible household must not have more than $2,250 in countable resources such as cash on hand or money in the bank. If one member of the household is age 60 and older, or disabled, then this limit increases to $3,500.
EBT Purchase Limitations
Households that receive food stamps can use an EBT card to purchase food items like cereal, grains, produce, dairy products and seeds to grow vegetables. Some vendors at farmer’s markets even accept food stamps. However, there are consumables that the USDA does not consider as a food item. Such items include alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pet food, cleaning supplies and energy drinks. Additionally, SNAP beneficiaries cannot use an EBT card to purchase cooked foods at a restaurant or foods an individual can eat in the supermarket, such as the hot foods sold by the deli counters. In places where a grocery store or similar market is not accessible, SNAP may allow purchases for ready-made hot food from local establishments.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool
- LSNJLAW: SNAP—New Jersey’s Food Stamp Program
- Career Trend: How Long Does it Take to Get Approved for Food Stamps?
- New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- USDA: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Food and Nutrition Service. "SNAP Data Tables, Latest Available Month July 2019 State Level Participation & Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, August 2019," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- USDA." What Can SNAP Buy?" Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
Flora Richards-Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2003. She creates copy for websites, marketing materials and printed publications. Richards-Gustafson specializes in SEO and writing about small-business strategies, health and beauty, interior design, emergency preparedness and education. Richards-Gustafson received a Bachelor of Arts from George Fox University in 2003 and was recognized by Cambridge's "Who's Who" in 2009 as a leading woman entrepreneur.