Food stamps can help lower-income families, putting food on the table during hard financial times. Here's everything you need to know.

Food stamps are a way to feed your family in difficult times. If you have had difficulty feeding yourself or your family due to financial hardship, then food stamps might be an option for you. In fact, food stamps might be a necessity for you. 

Some folks have personal prejudices against asking for help but please do not let any personal prejudice prevent you from using food stamps. 

What are food stamps?

Food stamps are offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP. The goal of the USDA program is to offer financial assistance that gives eligible low-income families and individuals access to nutritious food. 

When you are approved to collect food stamps, states will automatically load an EBT card with your food stamps automatically each month. 

The benefits made available can only be used on certain foods that a household will eat. For example:

  • bread
  • fruits
  • meat
  • cookies
  • seeds
  • vegetables

However, pet food, medicines, hot food, and alcoholic beverages are not eligible. Keep that in mind when you are shopping with EBT benefits. 

Who qualifies for food stamps?

Not everyone is qualified to receive food stamps. The requirements for food stamp eligibility will vary based on the state.

To find out the exact requirements for your state, use the pre-screening tool available on the USDA website. It will quickly inform you whether or not you are eligible for food stamps in your state. 

Those with incomes at or below the poverty line

Income for the household must fall at or below the poverty line for the state. The poverty line varies by state.

For example, a family of four in California must have an income of $3,960 per month or less to qualify for food assistance. However, a family of four in Mississippi would qualify for SNAP with an income of $2,719 per month or less.

Those who don’t have many assets

In order to qualify, your household cannot have assets above $2,250 unless there is an elderly or disabled member of the household. If you do have an elderly or disabled member of your household, then the total assets for the household cannot exceed $3,500. 

Those who are not U.S. citizens do not qualify

SNAP benefits are not available to undocumented non-citizens. However, in certain cases, documented non-citizens can be eligible for food stamps.

The eligibility varies by state but most require that the non-citizen has lived in the US for at least five years, is under the age of 18, or is receiving disability-related benefits.

Those who meet certain working requirements

Eligible program participants must meet certain work requirements including registering for work, not quitting a job, take any offered job, or participate in employment training programs that may be required by the state.

If you are an able-bodied adult without any dependents then you will be required to work at least 20 hours a week or participate in a work program in order to receive benefits for more than three months within a 36-month time frame.

These work requirements may be waived for certain groups such as children, seniors, and pregnant women. 

Where can I get food stamps?

Apply online

The application process for SNAP benefits will vary by state. Most states have an online application process available but some still require a paper application.

If you aren’t sure where to get started in your state, then your first step should be to find your local office through this locator

Once you find your local office, give them a call to find out the specifics of your state’s application process. Just fill out the application and turn it into your local office to start the process.  

Schedule an interview

Next, you will need to complete an interview with a SNAP worker. At the interview, you will need to bring documentation such as:

  • your driver’s license
  • pay stubs
  • proof of income
  • utility bills
  • medical bills
  • proof of address

Some states may require even more documentation, so call ahead to ensure that you will have everything you need to move the process forward. The purpose of this interview is to verify the information on your original application. 

After the interview, you will be informed whether or not you were approved for food stamps. If you think you were mistakenly denied food stamps, then you talk to your local office. You are entitled to a “fair hearing” of your case. A SNAP representative will meet with you and discuss your application at no cost. It is always a good idea to understand why you were not approved, so take advantage of this opportunity. 

How to get food stamps

Once you are approved for food stamps, it is time to go shopping.

You will receive an EBT card in the mail that is connected to your SNAP benefits. Within 30 days of approval, your benefits will be available in your account. These benefits will not expire at the end of the month, instead, any remaining balance will roll over to the next month. 

You can use your EBT card at participating retailers around the country. Most grocery stores accept EBT cards but it is a good idea to confirm that your local grocery store does before you go.

Other ways to save on food

Food stamps are one way to feed your family but they are not the only way to put food on the table.

There are several ways to save money on your grocery bill that could alleviate your need for food stamps. Although it can be difficult to save money on food, it is not impossible. 

Here are a few of our favorite ways to save money on food:

Sign up for a groceries rewards card

To get the most bang for your buck on grocery spending, consider signing up for a grocery rewards card (only if you are confident you can use a credit card responsibly!).

The Citi Rewards+® Card is one of the best cards to have in your wallet if you’re looking to earn big bucks at supermarkets. You can earn a generous 2x Thankyou® Points at supermarkets and gas stations for the first $6,000 per year and 1x points thereafter, making it the perfect card for any chef.

And to top it off, cardholders also earn 10% points back for the first 100,000 ThankYou® Points redeemed per year, adding to the large queue of cash back you can earn with the Citi Rewards+® Card. Plus, there’s no annual fee!

Card info has been collected by MoneyUnder30 to help consumers better compare cards. The financial institution did not provide or approve card details.

Shop with coupons

It may seem like a no-brainer to shop with coupons but it is easy to get overwhelmed with the idea of extreme couponing. You do not need to be an extreme couponer in order to successfully save money with coupons. Keep an eye out for coupons that could dramatically cut your grocery bill.

For example, I save 20 percent on my groceries every month because a local chain sends out two 20 percent coupons each month. I just have to plan my shopping around their coupons. 

Sign up for store loyalty apps

Many grocery stores have loyalty apps that will reward shoppers with a point system. Plus, there are usually extra coupons available through the app. Definitely worth checking out!

Shop seasonally

Fresh foods have a season. This may sound completely obvious, but do not buy any fruit or vegetables that are not in season. Anything you buy out of season will be more expensive and may not even taste that great. Try to plan your cooking around what is available in the area. 

Plant a garden

Although you will need to put in time and effort into caring for your garden, it could be a nice way to supplement your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables for just the cost of seeds and labor.

If you are just starting out, then stick to what grows well in your area. 

Stick to the staples

Staple items like rice and beans may be boring but they are cheap and hearty. In a pinch, staple foods can help get you through to the other side.

Try to spice up your staples to make eating them more bearable. 

Find free meals in your area

Many areas have free food given away on a regular basis. Especially if you live near a college campus, there is always free pizza to be found.

Many churches also have free dinner nights, but you will have to search to find them. 

Visit your local food bank

Food banks are a resource for anyone struggling with food insecurity. Call your local food bank to see what assistance they can potentially offer you. 


If you are in a difficult financial position, then you should definitely look into what is involved to apply for food stamps. They can help to keep food on the table during this difficult time.

I want to really encourage you not to let pride stop you from applying. 

But also, in addition to food stamps, take advantage of other ways to save money on food. You might be surprised by how much you can save. Often times, a little bit here and there in terms of savings can really add up.

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About the author

Total Articles: 56
Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer covering retirement, investing, debt, savings, credit cards, mortgages, and student loans. Additionally, she is the founder of Adventurous Adulting, a personal finance blog dedicated to helping readers tackle their money and take control of the adventure of life. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.