Personal Finance 

How To Apply For Food Stamps

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A recent New York Times article spotlighted how 28 million Americans may be receiving food stamps, the highest level since the start of the program in the 1960s, and I thought that, if eligible, it would be helpful to provide an understandable resource for folks so they knew how to apply. The USDA has a Food Stamp Program page but it’s not as clear about the application process.

Some statistics: the average monthly benefit was $86 per person and $200 per household in 2004. In 2005, the average gross monthly income per food stamp household was $648, so you get a good sense of who is eligible and who isn’t. To get a sense of what that means, if you were to extrapolate a per hour figure given full 52 week employment, $648 a month equates to $3.74 an hour if you work a 2080 hour year.

Determine Eligibility

The first step is to determine if you are eligible through the use of the FNS Food Stamp Program Eligibility Tool, which is strangely linked to an IP address. One word of advice about the tool, some states have special rules so the tool might say you’re not eligible but you might be eligible in your state. If the tool says you’re eligible, you’re in the clear. If not, contact your local food stamp office.

When you use the tool, it may send you to a state calculator or state food stamp website. For Maryland, it sent me to the Department of Human Resources homepage where I could access the Food Stamps eligibility tool (it’s a screening tool for all of the social services, including cash, medical, and temporary assistance). So, if you are re-routed to another tool, it’s best to go to your state tool to get the most accurate information.

If Eligible, Apply!

Since the tool is pretty quick, it’s best to check eligibility before you apply, though they say you can apply immediately. In Maryland, the application is estimated to take between twenty and forty-five minutes and is identical to applying in person. You might be wondering if you should apply for your state program or for the national program, it’s the same technically. The federal eligibility tool might have routed you to a state eligibility tool or it might have handled things itself, either way you need to apply at a state or county office. Each state will have its own form so you will need to find your local food stamp program office via their locator. After you find your office, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a call to clarify. It’s always tricky finding out how your local office, despite being an annex of a larger program, handles things; you’ll want to follow what the office says.

Some states will allow you to apply online, they are: Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Electronic Benefits Transfer Card

If you are certified to receive food stamp benefits, you’ll get an Electronic Benefits Transfer card (EBT card), a PIN, and instructions on how you can use it. You use it like a debit card and you can buy food and plants/seeds to grow food, and you can use it in any state, not just your own. You cannot use it to buy non-food items, alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, medicine, food to be eaten in the store, and hot foods. Some states still use paper coupons, though those are being phased out. If you lose your EBD card, call your state’s customer service number and they’ll reissue you one in 2-5 days.

If you have any more questions, the Food Stamp Program FAQ is quite comprehensive.

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “How To Apply For Food Stamps”

  1. Haley says:

    Another tool to help you apply for Food Stamps and other public benefits is the Benefit Bank. You sit down with someone from the organization that offers the service and go through basically the same questions as the eligibility estimator and at the end it will tell you if you’re eligible, and if you are what your expected monthly food stamp allotment will be, and you will have a completed application as well. One problem is that it is only available in some states. The website is

  2. Meg says:

    Hmmm, I thought obesity was the problem in America, not hunger…

    Not to be unsympathetic to those who are seriously in need, but there are NOT 28 million people at risk of going hungry in America. Nowhere NEAR that many people should be on food stamps, and I really don’t think we need to be encouraging internet surfers to seek government aid that they almost certainly do not need. How insulting to those across the globe who are ACTUALLY hungry.

    First of all, there are homeless shelters and food pantries all over the country which are stocked with food they’ll give to anybody who walks up and asks for it. Second, the average household “in poverty” in America might earn a relatively low income, but that’s not because they’re being paid $3.74/hr; it’s because the household is running on only 16 hours of work per week.

    I know there are people in America who truly need help to meet their basic needs. But according to the US Census, 89% of those defined as “poor” had enough food to eat throughout the year, and only 2% of them had bouts with hunger on a regular basis.

  3. jim says:

    How are you qualified to determine who is and who isn’t in need of food stamps?

  4. Minimum Wage says:

    I don’t know where Meg hangs out, but in my neck of the woods, food banks are overwhelmed with demand they cannot meet.

    An estimated one in five renters in my state is paying at least half their income for rent (NOT including utilities), which really get in the way of keeping enough food on the table.

    The government definition of poverty is a joke and government poverty statistics shouldn’t be considered a good measure of anything.

    According to the government, a retiree living in his free-and-clear $500K home on a modest retirement income can be “poor” while a childless adult working full time at minimum wage and paying half his income on rent is “not poor”. But who enjoys a higher standard of living?

  5. cheo reom says:

    I normally don’t argue with people’s opinions but Meg, your comment comes off hurtful and ignorant. I was raised on food stamps and, let me tell you, it wasn’t because my parents were working “16 hours of work per week” or didn’t seek food shelters. Many food banks closed their doors to us or provided minimal help simply because they didn’t have enough resources. And while my parents were both working 40+ hours a week, they still didn’t scrounge enough money for rent, utilities, and food for all the kids. I remember many times when I went a long time without new clothes or new school supplies…just straight hands-me-down or second or even third-hand products. Sure there might be people who don’t need food stamps but it’s nowhere near the majority from what I see. People do need genuine help in this country, more so than “your statistics” tell.

    I may come off bitter but it’s because this is something that hits close to home. For someone like me who is getting the chance to put himself through college and do things like emergency funds and Roth IRAs, food stamps were a necessity to get there. I hope you understand this and not casually speak of “us” in such a manner.

  6. cheo reom says:

    I’m sorry for a second comment but just wanted to let Meg know that I was a reader of your blog and found your postings helpful. But I sincerely hope that your comment above wasn’t intentionally disparaging because I’m sure any blogger would hate to lose a reader for such a reason.

  7. altagracia rodriguez says:

    i want to apply for food stamp on line please send me the webseside

  8. Ken says:

    I worked my butt off and paid lots of taxes over my lifetime. Now that I need foodstamps I have no problem with accepting them How is it some people seem to thijnk “Their taxes” are paying for my food stamps?? I hope to return to work soon and am active in doing so. Such arrogance!

  9. Snowfeather says:

    Meg, why do you have to be so hurtful? Don’t you know that if you don’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say it at all? Not that it’s ANY of your business, but after working as a Paramedic and a Volunteer Firefighter for FIFTEEN years, I was bitten by a fire ant, went into anaphylactic shock, and died before the ambulance got to me. I am now in a living hell. I was continuing my education to eventually necome a trauma doctor. You have NO IDEA what all of us go through…have been through. So, please, just shut it unless you’ve been there. Good luck and love to all the rest of you.

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