Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Updated August 25, 2020

For many of the poorest Americans, most notably single mothers, SNAP has become the only form of income assistance they receive.



Food is a basic necessity that impacts on many aspects of human survival. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a constant and consistent supply of food.

Statistics show that one in eight American households struggles to put enough food on the table. 1

While average families may already find it hard to make ends meet, the challenge is much harder for single parents.

To mitigate the effects of poverty, the U.S. federal government initiated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The aim is to provide affordable and nutritionally adequate diet to the low- to no income families; protecting them from hardship and hunger.

SNAP Statistics

For many of the poorest Americans, SNAP has become the only form of income assistance they receive. Statistics show that one in five SNAP households lives on cash income of less than $2 per person a day. 2

In 2018 alone, SNAP helped about 40 million people put sufficient food on the table. 3 Nearly half (44%) of all SNAP participants were children under age 18, 4 with almost two-thirds of SNAP children living in single-parent households. 5

Over 80% of SNAP families with children had incomes below the poverty line. Nearly half (45%) were in deep poverty, with incomes at or below half of the poverty line. 6


SNAP is the modern alternative to the Food Stamp Program. From the quantity of food that can be availed to the manner of purchase, SNAP is a long way from its original structure. 7

Before, color-coded coupons were distributed to beneficiaries. Now, the assistance comes in the form of a debit card known as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), which is loaded with benefits once a month and can be used to purchase grocery items in any participating store within their locality.

Am I Eligible for SNAP?

Eligibility for SNAP is based on family income and whether or not it is composed of members with disabilities or seniors. Once the income requirement is met, household size and gross income (adjusted) are the next factors for consideration.

SNAP rules limit eligibility to households with gross income no more than 130% of poverty and net income at or below 100% of poverty.

You may be eligible SNAP benefits if you are: 8

  • Unemployed;
  • Working for low wages or working part-time;
  • Receiving welfare or other public assistance payments;
  • Elderly or disabled and are low-income; or
  • Homeless.

Use SNAP’s pre-screening tool to see if you are eligible for SNAP benefits. When you begin using the tool, you will answer some questions which the tool uses to determine your eligibility and estimate the amount of benefits you might get.

Some states may have their own pre-screening tools for SNAP eligibility. If you live in one of those states, the system will automatically direct you to the state’s pre-screening tool.

SNAP Benefits 2019

Household Size Maximum Average
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The actual amount of SNAP benefit you will get is the maximum allotment for your household size (see table above), minus 30% of your household’s net monthly income.

For example, a household of three with a net monthly income of $900 would get a food stamp allotment of about $239 but may vary by state; with very poor households receiving larger benefits.

  • Maximum allotment for household size of 3 $505
  • Subtract 30% of net monthly income (0.3 x 900) $270
  • Household food stamp benefit $235

Most families under the SNAP program receive benefits for a 6-month period, at which point the recipient will have to submit a renewal application.

As a condition of eligibility, single mothers applying for SNAP benefits are required to render several hours of work-related services to the SNAP Employment and Training Program. The activities vary according to the needs of applicants.

Such activities include, but not limited to,

  • Enrolment in a secondary education program
  • Search for employment
  • Community Service
  • On-the-job Training
  • Actual employment

All of these only serve to provide temporary support until applicants are capable of independently providing for their families.

The law also requires all able-bodied adults recipients ages 18—49 without dependents (ABAWDs) to meet special work requirements. Otherwise, receipt of benefits is limited to no more than 3 months during a 36-month period.

How do I apply for Food Stamps?

Each state designs its own SNAP application process. In most states, you must fill out an application and return it to a local SNAP office, either in person, by mail, or by fax. 9

After your application is filed, the SNAP office will review your information, conduct an interview, and determine your eligibility for SNAP. If you’re signed up for the program, and you’ll receive an EBT card in the mail with your SNAP benefits for the month.

If you’re application is denied, you have the right to ask why. You can appeal the decision if you don’t agree or feel an error was made and request for a “fair hearing” with a state employee at the SNAP office.

  1. Economic Research Service/USDA – Household Food Security in the United States in 2016()
  2. Off The Chart, SNAP and the Fight Against Extreme Poverty()
  3. SNAP Monthly Data as of June 8, 2018()
  4. USDA, Characteristics of SNAP Households: Fiscal Year 2017()
  5. SNAP to Health, SNAP Frequently Asked Questions()
  6. CBPP, SNAP Helps Millions of Children()
  7., 50 Years of SNAP()
  8. Facts about SNAP()
  9. SNAP Application and Local Office Locators()