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Learn About California Food Stamps Requirements

Understanding your food stamps eligibility in California is a critical step in the application process. If you make an informed prediction beforehand on your chances of qualifying, you may save yourself a great deal of time down the road. There are a variety of factors that will influence your eligibility, including your income level, citizenship status, employment status and more.

In CA, the federal food assistance program is referred to as CalFresh instead of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and overseen by the state Department of Social Services (CDSS). However, be mindful that the CDSS may modify these requirements every year, so it is important to regularly review these eligibility rules. To learn more about the food stamp qualifications, continue reading below.

Citizenship and Residency Requirements for SNAP in California

One of the first steps in determining your CA SNAP eligibility is reviewing the citizenship and legal residency requirements of the program. In order to qualify, you must either be a U.S. citizen or a qualified immigrant. A qualified immigrant may include:

  • Lawful permanent residents (LPR).
  • Refugees.
  • People seeking asylum.
  • Adults or minors who are subject to human trafficking.

Certain other people may also count as qualified immigrants.

In addition, qualified immigrants that meet CalFresh eligibility must have lived in the U.S. with legal status for a minimum of five years. However, these years do not have to be consecutive.

On the other hand, you may be eligible for this program without the five-year minimum if you are younger than 18 years of age or receive assistance for a disability. You may also be eligible without five years of residency if you are:

  • A refugee, asylee, Cuban or Haitian entrant or victim of trafficking.
  • A veteran of the U.S. military or the spouse of a military service member.
  • An LPR who has worked a certain number of quarters in the U.S.

If you want to apply for an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, otherwise known as a CalFresh EBT, list the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of you and your other household members on the application. This ensures that there are no duplicate applications.

If one or more members of your household do not qualify for CalFresh, you may simply leave their SSNs out of the application. These household members will not receive benefits, but their incomes may be counted toward your household’s earnings. Moreover, you are allowed to submit an application on behalf of a person or family member, even if you do not qualify for the program.

What are the SNAP income guidelines in California?

You may consider using a SNAP calculator if you are looking for an easier way to determine your eligibility. The USDA offers a pre-screening eligibility tool, which will prompt you to enter certain information about yourself and your household. This includes your name, address, monthly earnings, assets and more.

It will also be helpful to understand the California SNAP income guidelines before applying. Generally, your income must not exceed a certain monthly limit, which varies depending on the number of people in your household. For instance, the total gross monthly income for a household of two must not exceed $2,744.

In order to calculate your gross income, combine the monthly earnings of every working member of your household. Do not factor in deductions or taxes just yet, as you do not know how much your local public assistance office will allow you to deduct.

You must also factor in forms of unearned income and assets. Unearned income and assets that count as earnings include investments, checking accounts and bonds. Unearned income that does not count includes child support payments and retirement savings.

The food stamp income guidelines state that, under certain circumstances, you may still qualify for benefits even if you are above the income limit. For example, you may still be eligible to receive these benefits if you are 60 years of age and/or older or have a disability, because you are allowed to make deductions for certain medical expenses.

You may also be required to follow special income guidelines if you are a student or a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient. You may be considered a student if:

  • You are at least 18 years of age.
  • You do not have a physical or mental disability. If you have a disability, you must refer to the disability guidelines.
  • You are enrolled at least part-time in a qualifying school.
  • You meet additional student guidelines.

The CalFresh income guidelines state that you must also work a certain number of hours every week. Certain exceptions apply if you have a child or receive benefits from another CA assistance program. Learn more about the SNAP income guidelines when you download our free guide.

Other Important Food Stamps Qualifications in California

In order to qualify for food stamps in California, you must meet the pre-determined work requirements. For example, you must be employed if you are between 18 and 49 years of age, do not have a disability, are not pregnant and do not have children. Additional exceptions may apply.

Note that this requirement also depends on your county, so it is important to check the work requirements on your county’s SNAP website. You may also be required to complete an employment and training activity, such as:

  • Actively searching for work.
  • Completing a community service requirement.
  • Going to school or training for a certain career.

If you are wondering how to qualify for food stamps in California, remember that other requirements exist beyond citizenship status, income level and employment status. For instance, you and your household need to pass a background check.

How do you maintain your food stamps in California?

If you want to get CalFresh and maintain your eligibility, you must understand your rights and responsibilities while you are enrolled in the program. Failing to meet these responsibilities may result in the termination of your benefits.

As an example, you must report any changes to your income, household or circumstances to your local public assistance office. You have 10 days from the date of the change to notify your office, and you may do so in writing, over the phone or in person. Overall, changes to your earnings or household makeup may affect the total amount of benefits you are eligible to receive.

Furthermore, you must follow the rules for making purchases with an EBT card. Generally, you are only allowed to buy certain food items with your benefits. If you use your card for prohibited items, you may have your CalFresh privileges revoked. Learn more about maintaining SNAP by downloading our free guide.