Benefit Programs

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits 101

Comity Team · Feb 23, 2022 portrait
Comity Team · Feb 23, 2022

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is America’s largest federal nutrition assistance program. By largest, we mean very large – SNAP provided financial assistance to purchase food to 42 million people in 2021, or 12% of all Americans [1]. Through SNAP, working Americans receive money from the federal government via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card (EBT), which is refreshed monthly and used just like a normal debit card on food purchases [2].

In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about SNAP, from eligibility requirements to purchasing restrictions, to how to apply. Because we’re a company that’s rethinking the American safety net (Hi! We’re Comity!), we’ll also provide some thoughts at the end around improvements we hope to make to government benefits – SNAP included. Ready to get into it?

What are SNAP benefits?

SNAP exists to help working Americans purchase the food their families need. Every month, families (or individuals) enrolled in SNAP will receive money via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card (EBT), which can be used like a normal debit card. SNAP benefits can only be used on a pre-approved list of items, and in most (but not all) stores – we’ll cover this in more detail later.

In many stores, EBT, SNAP, and even “Food Stamps” (what SNAP benefits were called when the program was founded in 1939) are terms used interchangeably.

Table via Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Snap eligibility: Am I eligible for SNAP benefits?

To be eligible for SNAP you must live in the state in which you’re applying for benefits, and you must meet certain requirements around resources, income, and work. The federal government sets requirements around SNAP eligibility that is consistent across states, except for Alaska and Hawaii (which have higher income limits than other states), and with the exception of certain eligibility requirements, which can also vary by state [3]. Use the below eligibility requirements as a guide, and make sure to check in with your individual state to confirm eligibility for your household (which you can do here!).

What Qualifies as a Household?

An important note: SNAP is organized around households, not individuals. This means that (with a few exceptions – see cited source) everyone who lives together and/or eats together, and/or purchases food together in one home is grouped into a SNAP household, with one EBT account [4].

Work eligibility for SNAP

Everyone between the ages of 16 and 59 who qualifies for SNAP must work and earn income to receive the benefit, with the exception of:

  • People who work 30+ hours per week, or earn an income equal to the federal minimum wage multiplied by 30
  • Students (in school or a training program, at least half-time, although college students are under their own requirements – see more at source [5])
  • People who are active participants in any sort of drug or alcohol treatment program
  • People who meet a work requirement for another benefits program like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Unemployment
  • People who take care of a child or children under 6, or an incapacitated person
  • People who cannot work due to a physical or mental limitation [6]

There are some exceptions to the rule, however. If you are not working between the ages of 16 and 59 you may still qualify for SNAP if:

  • You are pregnant
  • You live in a household with someone under the age of 18
  • You’re under age 18, or over age 50
  • You’ve been determined to be either physically or mentally “unfit for employment” [7]

Finally, there’s one last piece to the SNAP work requirement – the Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWD) Work Requirement and Time Limit. This eligibility requirement applies to people between the ages of 18 - 49, who are able to work, and who do not have dependents. To receive SNAP benefits for more than 3 months in a 3 year period, this group of people needs to meet the General Work Eligibility for SNAP requirements (above), as well as the ABAWD work requirement, which they can do by:

  • Work 80+ hours per month. This work can be paid, in exchange for products, services, or something other than money, unpaid, or volunteer
  • Participate in a federal, state, or local work program for 80+ hours per month – something like the SNAP Employment and Training or another eligible program
  • Work and participate in a work training program for 80+ hours per month
  • Participate in workfare for a specific number of hours assigned to you each month by the SNAP program [8]

Exceptions to the ABAWD Work Requirement include people who are pregnant, who live in a household with someone under the age of 18, or who are excused from the general work requirements (above) due to another reason.

Income and resource eligibility for SNAP

There are also certain income and resource eligibility thresholds for SNAP benefits. These include:

  • Monthly gross household income (before any deductions are applied) should be at or below 130% of the federal poverty line. Take the monthly income for your household size and multiply it by 1.3 to see whether your income falls within the eligibility level, in the below chart. Reminder that we define what a “household” is for SNAP above.
    Chart via HHS
  • A household’s monthly net income (household income after any deductions are applied) needs to be at or below the poverty line (see chart above). Eligible monthly deductions include:
    → 20% deduction from any earned monthly income.
    → $177 deducted for households of 1 - 3 people and $184 deducted for households of 4+ people. Note that this may also be higher for some bigger households, and may be higher for families in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam (check with your local SNAP office!).
    → “A dependent care deduction when needed for work, training, or education” [9].
    → Eligible medical expenses over $35 for any elderly or disabled members in your household (as long as they are not paid by insurance)[10].
    → Any legally owed child support payments (only in certain states)
    → $159.73 for for homeless households (only in certain states)
    → Excess “shelter costs” (like utilities, rent, taxes, etc) that make up more than half of your household's income, after other deductions [11].
  • Household assets must be below a certain limit. Assets include things like money in a bank account, but does not include things like your home, most cars, and retirement savings. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has some good resources on what makes an asset, income, and other information here.
    → If everyone in the household is younger than 60 (or there are no disable people) the asset limit is $2,500 or less [12]
    → If someone in the household is over 60 (or there is a disabled person) the asset limit is $3,750 or less [13]

What can I purchase with SNAP?

According to the USDA, households can use SNAP benefits to purchase the following:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, etc.
  • Breads and cereals
  • Snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Seeds and plants, if they can produce food that the household can eat [14]

What can I NOT purchase with SNAP?

There are certain categories of food and other products that are not eligible for SNAP benefits. These include:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Cigarettes or tobacco
  • Vitamins, medicines, and supplements.
  • Live animals (“except shellfish, fish removed from water, and animals slaughtered prior to pick-up from the store” [15])
  • Hot foods (from an in-store buffet or restaurant, e.g.)
  • Non-food items [16]

While most grocery stores accept SNAP, some do not. You can check which stores in your area accept SNAP using this tool from the USDA.

How do I apply for SNAP?

Each state has their own SNAP application. You can use this website from the USDA to find your local state application.

Comity’s take on SNAP

Here at Comity, we're on a mission to modernize America's safety net. We think there’s a better way to support working people in America, and we're building towards a world where every working person has the support they need to navigate life's inevitable challenges.

Our first product is Comity Advance Tax Credits– an extra $500 in your pocket for eligible working Americans to spend on the things you and your family need (read more here). We think government benefits like SNAP need an overhaul, too. We’re hard at work rethinking how Americans can access benefits – if you have insight, feedback, or a story you’d like to share, we’re all ears. Reach out at members@comitycard.com and let’s work together on modernizing America’s safety net.

Sources Cited

Source 1: NPR, The 42 Million Americans Who Receive SNAP Benefits Are Set To Get $36 More A Month.

Source 2: Benefits.gov, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Source 3: United States Census Bureau, Data Inputs: SNAP Benefits Data.

Source 4: USDA, SNAP Eligibility.

Source 5: USDA, Students.

Source 6: USDA, SNAP Work Requirements.

Source 7: NY Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, SNAP Work Requirements.

Source 8: USDA, SNAP Work Requirements.

Source 9: USDA, SNAP Eligibility.

Source 10: USDA, SNAP Special Rules for the Elderly or Disabled.

Source 11: USDA, SNAP Eligibility.

Source 12: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits.

Source 13: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits.

Source 14: USDA, What Can SNAP Buy?

Source 15: USDA, What Can SNAP Buy?

Source 16: USDA, What Can SNAP Buy?

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