How Do Food Stamps Work?

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, helps people with low income buy healthy food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service oversees the program, and each state administers benefits through local offices.

People are eligible for SNAP benefits if they are unemployed or underemployed, elderly or disabled, or receiving other public assistance benefits. Potential recipients must complete an application, which is found in a SNAP office or online. Next, candidates interview with a SNAP office representative to confirm U.S. citizenship status, review the guidelines of the program and evaluate the candidate’s income and assets. In some cases, SNAP recipients are required to work or participate in an employment training program.

Candidates who are eligible for benefits generally receive them within 30 days. SNAP benefits are transferred electronically to an electronic benefits transfer account, which is accessed with a card similar to a debit or credit card. Recipients shop for food and pay by swiping the EBT card at the point-of-sale terminal in the store. SNAP benefits can be used for food or for plants and seeds that grow food. SNAP benefits cannot be used for hot foods, food eaten in the store or pet food.