Food stamps: What they are & How to apply for food stamps online

We love grocery stores and supermarkets for offering discounts. Unfortunately, price slashes happen once in a while. You can’t always wait until the next sales day before making your trip to the store.

SNAP EBT cards, formerly called food stamps, ensure that you have access to healthy foods for your survival whenever you want. You can buy eligible items with your electronic card, and it’s not coming from your paycheck. If you want to get one, we explain how to apply for food stamps in this post. 

What are food stamps?

Food stamps originally existed in paper form. If you bought one stamp worth $1, you would get an extra stamp with a 50 cents value. They enabled you to buy more than you could originally afford. The Federal government of the USA launched the first Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) pilot in 1984, and EBT cards became popular in the 1990s. 

EBT cards for different states in the USA
EBT cards (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are the new food stamps. They allow you to access funds that the federal government of the USA gives you when you register for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You can use the funds to buy eligible food items from qualified grocery stores and supermarkets

EBT cards look like regular bank cards. But they face stricter regulations. For example, you can’t use them to withdraw cash from an ATM or get cash back. The only legal way you can access the money preloaded on them is to use them as a payment method when shopping for groceries.

Who is eligible for food stamps?

You are eligible for food stamps if you are a low income earner. There is no specific age you have to be before you apply. Typically, you need to apply as a household to qualify for SNAP benefits. That is, you and anyone who lives and shares meals in the same house. There are other rules for students, individuals, and non-citizens, which we will review in this section.

Household members

Most times, what the SNAP looks at is your gross and net income to determine if you are eligible. The gross income is the total money you earn without any deductions. Your net income is the money remaining once you make deductions from it. For example, taxes and other payroll deductions.


If you are between the ages of 16 to 59 years, you must have a job to meet the SNAP EBT work requirements. That means you must have registered to work, participated in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T), and taken a suitable job for yourself. During that time, you must not voluntarily quit or reduce your work hours below 30 a week.


If you attend a higher institution (college or university), you are not eligible for SNAP benefits. But if you are studying under half-time enrollment, then you may be qualified. Half-time enrollment means that instead of the usual 12 or more courses offered in your institution, you only take six courses. Basically, you carry half of the workload a full-time student does.

Other requirements you need to meet to qualify for SNAP benefits as a student include the following. Read the full list of requirements here.

  • You must be under 18, or you must be elderly (age 50 or older).
  • You must care for a child under the age of six, or age six to 11 while lacking the necessary assistance that  allow you to attend school and work.
  • You must have a physical or mental disability.
  • Work at least 20 hours a week under a paid employment.
  • Participate in an on-the-job training program.

In the meantime, you can access Safeway student discounts before you begin your food stamps application. The store will reduce 5% from your in-store purchases.

For non-citizens

SNAP EBT benefits extend to you if you’re not a citizen of the USA. Of course, you need to meet the specifications stated above just like every other person. You also need to ensure that you are one of the following:

  • You must have lived in the USA for a minimum of five years.
  • You must be receiving disability-related assistance.
  • You are a child under 18 years of age.

Important resources you need to have to qualify for SNAP EBT benefits 

You must have a minimum of $2,750 in countable resources to apply for food stamps. It can be money in cash form or in your bank account. If you have an elderly person of age 60 or above living with you, then you need to have $4,250 in countable resources. You will need the same amount if the person is disabled, no matter their age. 

If you are registered for any pension or retirement plans, they will be overlooked when determining your eligibility. But in certain cases, your local SNAP office may look at how frequently you receive the money. If it’s very frequent, then they’ll classify it as a means of income and count it among your resources.

Vehicles also count as resources, but not all types. If your vehicle falls under any of the following categories, then your are not eligible for SNAP EBT benefits:

  • Commercial vehicles. For example, a taxi, truck or grocery delivery motorcycle. 
  • Vehicles that produce income almost worth their fair market value.
  • Vehicles you use for work-related long distance travels.
  • Vehicles you use as a mobile home. For example, RV vans.
  • Vehicles you use to move a disabled household member or most of the household’s fuel or water.
  • Vehicles will bring you less than $1,500 when you sell them.

How to apply for food stamps online

You need to apply for food stamps in-person, most times. You must apply in the state where you reside. It is only after your application is successful and you receive your EBT card that you can access benefits from anywhere in the 50 states of the USA. 

If you apply for food stamps in Texas and decide to move to New York permanently, then you have to contact your local SNAP office to close your benefits before you move. Once you get to your new location, you can reapply for SNAP EBT benefits.

Visit a local SNAP office near you to start your application. In some states, you can do your application online on the state agency’s website.

Use the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) state directory to find the contact information of your local SNAP office. Tap on any state on the map image and a tab will pop up displaying the office’s information. You will see if your local SNAP office has a website that accepts online applications.

A map of local SNAP offices in the USA

If for any reason you can’t go to your local SNAP office for your application, you can send someone to represent you. The person can fill the necessary forms and attend the interview on your behalf. But you will have to put it in writing that you are aware and approve of them taking your place.

What happens next after you apply for SNAP EBT benefits?

Once you follow the necessary registration process, your local SNAP office will process your application and you will hear from them within 30 days. They will let you know if you passed the eligibility requirements or not. If you are deemed eligible, you will begin receiving your benefits in the form of an EBT card. 

Each month, the SNAP program, funded by the federal government of the USA, will load your card with money. You can then use the money to buy groceries for your household’s survival.

Your local office will inform you of your certification period. This period refers to the timeframe when you can access your benefits before it finally expires. Before it does, the office notify you so that you can recertify your SNAP benefits and start receiving them again 

How much will you receive after a successful SNAP EBT application?

The SNAP expects you to use 30% of your net income to buy food. Remember, your net income is what remains when you remove necessary expenses from your gross income.

To determine how much SNAP benefits you will receive, your local SNAP office will do a calculation. First, they will multiply your household’s net monthly income by 0.3. Then they will subtract the result from the maximum monthly allotment. Your allotment is simply the total amount of SNAP benefits you are expected to receive for each month. 

Below are the maximum monthly allotments the SNAP will give you, depending on your household size:

  • 1 person in the household: receive $281 maximum.
  • 2 persons in the household: receive $516 maximum.
  • 3 persons in the household: receive $740 maximum.
  • 4 persons in the household: receive $939 maximum.
  • 5 persons in the household: receive $1,116 maximum. 
  • 6 persons in the household: receive $1,339 maximum. 
  • 7 persons in the household: receive $1,480 maximum.
  • 8 persons in the household: receive $1,691 maximum. 
  • For each additional person to the household: $211 or higher.

The amount of SNAP benefits you will receive varies across states in the USA. You may notice that the value of your benefits is higher or lower than the figures you see on this list. If you do, it’s perfectly normal. But feel free to contact your local SNAP office for clarification. 

Additionally, SNAP benefits do not expire. There’s no pressure to use all your monthly allotments. The unused balance will rollover to the next month. However, if you don’t touch your benefits for nine months after receiving your card, the SNAP will remove them permanently from your card.


SNAP EBT benefits are for you — as long as you meet the basic requirements. Each state in the USA has its rules and guidelines, so the process and requirements for getting your EBT card may be different from others. 

If you already applied for food stamps and you don’t know where to spend them, we’ve got you covered. Most grocery stores accept EBT online and instore, giving the choice to shop from the comfort of your home or at brick-and-mortar locations like a regular customer.