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How Food Stamps Work

Eligibility for Food Stamps

Many people think that if they have a job, even a low-paying one, they won't be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But this is often a mistake -- millions of people who work also receive SNAP benefits. In qualifying for SNAP, your income is considered along with the cost of supplying food for your household. The key is defining your household, which can include family members and anyone who lives and eats with you most of the time [source: U.S. Department of Agriculture]. This is important, because larger households may be eligible for higher SNAP benefits.

Once you've defined your household, the next step is to determine the financial resources of each member. This includes any income from work as well as bank accounts, investment accounts and real estate other than your home. These resources are considered your total household contribution. However, there are a number of exceptions to the rules for resources and income. For example, Social Security benefits and the income from most retirement plans aren't counted as resources. Also, your monthly payments for things like child care and medical expenses may be deducted from your total household contribution. These factors can have a big impact on your eligibility, so be careful not to leave them out during the application process.

All U.S. citizens and most legal immigrants are eligible for SNAP benefits. Elderly and disabled people are also eligible and may receive higher maximum SNAP benefits. In general, most people who are homeless are eligible for food stamps. This can be tricky, though, considering the fact there's an employment requirement for receiving SNAP benefits. It states that SNAP beneficiaries must participate in work training programs, apply for work and accept suitable employment, if offered. For more on SNAP eligibility, take a look at the USDA's online pre-screening tool.

Now that you know the eligibility requirements for SNAP, let's review how the application process works.