Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps)

Last Updated: October 20, 2020

Written by the Open Caregiving Team. Editorial review by Joyce O. Murphy RN, MSN.

What are food stamps?

Food Stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), help people with a low income to buy food and beverages for themselves and their family. This includes working people with low wages, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and other eligible groups.

How do food stamps work?

Food Stamps assist eligible people to buy groceries using an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. EBT cards are automatically refilled each month that you are still eligible for SNAP benefits.

What can food stamps buy?

With your EBT card you can buy fruits, vegetables, pantry items, meat/fish, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Review the full list of SNAP eligible items on the USDA website.

What can’t you buy with food stamps?

You can’t buy alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, prepared foods, live animals, pet food, or cleaning and beauty products using your EBT card. Your EBT card cannot be used for certain prohibited items (scroll down past items you can use your EBT card for).

Who can get food stamps?

To be eligible for Food Stamps, you must apply in the state you live in and your household must be at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Level. If you are older than 60-year-olds or disabled (according to SNAP disability rules) your qualification differs from typical households.

There are rare cases where non-US Citizens qualify for Food Stamps (SNAP). For more information on SNAP eligibility for non-US Citizens, continue reading SNAP Policy on Non-Citizen Eligibility.

Continuing reading about general Food Stamp eligibility and frequently asked questions on the USDA website.

Where can you use food stamps or EBT cards?

Most grocery stores and other large shopping chains accept EBT cards, including:

  • Target
  • Walgreens
  • Costco and Sam’s Club
  • Trader Joe’s
  • 7-Eleven
  • ShopRite
  • CVS
  • Wal-Mart
  • Rite-Aid
  • K-Mart
  • Whole Foods
  • Stop & Shop
  • Dollar Tree
  • Aldi

You can review the full list of stories near you using the USDA store locator.

How long can I stay on food stamps (SNAP)?

SNAP benefits will last for varying periods based on age, number of people in your household, and changes in income. Individuals between the ages of 18 and 50 usually get SNAP benefits for 3-month periods before having to submit a renewal application. Households with children usually receive SNAP benefits for at least 6-months. Eligibility can extend for up to 3 years.

How do I apply for food stamps (SNAP)?

To receive SNAP benefits you must submit an application through your state’s SNAP website. That office will then determine if you are eligible. To find your State’s SNAP website please go here: SNAP State Directory of Resources

Are there any specific food assistance programs for seniors?

Learn about free food programs for seniors on the below pages:

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