Your Food Stamps Guide

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a financial benefit available to low-income Americans who require assistance purchasing healthy groceries to feed their household. The first version of the program was introduced in 1939, and was referred to as the Food Stamps Program. The original program ended in 1943, and was relaunched in 1961 through an executive order from President John F. Kennedy. Over the years, it has expanded and changed as national needs have shifted.

Today, SNAP serves around 40 million Americans annually. It is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and managed at the state level. Individuals should apply to their state programs in order to receive benefits. The sections below go over the purpose of SNAP, how to use benefits and what you can learn about SNAP by consulting our comprehensive guide.

Purpose of SNAP

SNAP is designed to help keep low-income Americans fed, to provide nutritional education to low-income Americans and to battle hunger in the United States. Because obesity and diet-related issues are common among low-income Americans, many of the restrictions associated with the program are designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, the program emphasizes learning how to make food shopping choices that are both healthy and economical.

SNAP is also designed to help support the farming industry. The program allows shoppers to purchase groceries at both grocery stores and farmers markets, which can help provide a direct cash flow to local and small-time farmers. Although the majority of purchases are still made at grocery stores or convenience stores, the USDA continues to expand options in order to encourage shopping at farmers markets. For instance, some states may provide additional funding for individuals who purchase their groceries at farmers markets.

Using SNAP Benefits

SNAP benefits are typically issued on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which functions like a debit card. Individuals can use this card to purchase acceptable categories of food. Not all items in a grocery store can be bought with food stamps. For instance, shoppers cannot use an EBT card to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, pet food or housing supplies such as utensils or cleaning materials. Additionally, the card cannot be used to purchase ready-made foods or foods intended to be eaten at a restaurant. For example, an individual cannot purchase popcorn at the movie theaters with an EBT card.

SNAP benefits can only be used on groceries that must be prepared and consumed at home. This includes fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, grains, meats, beverages and snacks. Unlike other programs, SNAP does not restrict shoppers to a particular brand, price point or category of food. It is up to individual consumers to decide what groceries to purchase and how to budget their food stamps to last throughout the month.

About our Guide

Our guide goes over the basics of applying for and using food stamps, including general and state-specific eligibility requirements. Applicants must meet income, citizenship and asset requirements in order to receive benefits. In some cases, there are work requirements in place for certain able-bodied adults. Additionally, the application process differs between states. The guide goes over how to submit an application and the various methods available.

Additionally, the guide reviews other government programs that individuals who receive SNAP benefits may be eligible for. For instance, some applicants may qualify for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program. Others may qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Our comprehensive guide includes information on what retail stores typically accept EBT cards and what online stores SNAP recipients can shop at. It also includes advice for how to make the most of SNAP benefits and what other bills SNAP recipients can modify in order to lower expenses. Finally, it reviews available programs, such as educational programs, designed to help SNAP recipients make smarter nutritional choices.