How Food Stamps Work

Applying for Food Stamps

Applying for SNAP can be easy or complicated, depending on where you live. This is because individual states have different ways of running their programs. For example, each state is responsible for developing and processing its own SNAP application. Some have online applications, while others require that you do everything in person. But don't worry -- once you figure out the system in your state, the application process gets a lot easier.

The first step in the application process is to find your local SNAP office, which is probably located in a public assistance or Social Security administration building. The best way to find one is to look in your phone book (check under the heading "Food Stamps," "Social Services" or "Public Assistance"). You can also use the USDA's SNAP office locator tool or call (800) 221-5689, the USDA's toll-free number for questions about SNAP eligibility and benefits.

Keep in mind that you're entitled to submit an application on your first visit to the SNAP office, even if you have to return for an interview. This is important, since your first month's SNAP benefits will be prorated based on the day you submitted your application. For this reason, you should turn in your application as soon as possible, even if it's not complete. Your name, address and signature are all that's required to begin the process [source: U.S. Department of Agriculture].

After submitting your application, you'll need to schedule a personal interview at the SNAP office. Here's a list of items you may be required to bring with you to the interview:

  • Birth certificate
  • Government-issued identification (a driver's license or state ID card, for example)
  • Names and Social Security numbers of each member of your household
  • Proof of income (recent pay stubs or your most recent tax return, if you're self-employed)
  • Documentation of any federal benefits you receive, such as Social Security
  • Bank statements and documentation of all investment or retirement accounts
  • Documentation of your rent or mortgage payment
  • Day care or child support payments, if applicable
  • Documentation of medical expenses

Now that you know how to apply for SNAP benefits, read on to find out how to use them.