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What Bills Count for Food Stamp Benefits?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about qualifying for SNAP, or food stamps.

*** Want to learn how a family member can take care of a loved one at home and get paid? Click here.

Are You Eligible for Food Stamps? A Quick Guide

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as the Food Stamp Program). If you qualify for SNAP, you can get food stamps. 

To qualify, your household must meet certain requirements. But what exactly qualifies as a household?

A household includes all those who live with you, and purchase and prepare food with you. For purposes of SNAP eligibility, all members of a household are considered, not just the head of the household. You will therefore need to provide information about all members of your household. 

To be eligible for food stamps, a household’s resources and earnings must meet three main requirements:

  • Income requirements
  • Resource requirements
  • Work requirements

Let’s go into each of these right now.

Income Requirements for 2022

Every year, the government sets income limits for food stamp benefits. These limits vary depending on the number of people in your household.

To qualify for food stamps, your income must fall below the limits for both gross and net income.

  • Gross income: your total household income before taxes and expenses are taken off. 
  • Net income: what’s left after those deductions are taken. 

If your income falls below the above limits for both gross and net, you are likely eligible!.

When calculating your net income, keep in mind that the following can be deducted from your gross income:

  • Taxes
  • Child support
  • Housing costs
  • Tuition fees
  • Child care
  • Medical expenses over $35, for household members who are aged 60+ OR receiving certain disability payments. (Expenses cannot be deducted if an insurance company pays for them.)

Beyond the income limits above, households are automatically income-eligible for food stamps if everyone in the household receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 

NOTE: if you meet the above income requirements for SNAP, it’s likely that you also qualify for CDPAP, a Consumer-Directed Personal Assistance Program. This program allows family members or friends to care for a loved one at home — and get paid through Medicaid.  Click here to learn more.

Resource Requirements

How much money can you have in the bank and still get food stamps?

To qualify for SNAP, households must also meet the resource limit.  

Resources are the things you own, such as cash or the money in your bank account. As of 2022, households can have up to $2,500 in resources and still be eligible for food stamp benefits. If at least one household member is age 60 or older, or disabled, the resource limit increases to $3,750.

Many items you own are not considered resources. For example, your property or home is not counted as a resource. In most states, you can also own at least one car — that’s not considered a resource. Most retirement plans do not count as resources. The resources of individuals who receive SSI or TANF are not counted either.

 

Work Requirements

To qualify for SNAP, you must also show a limited ability to work.

If you are:

  • an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD, for short) 
  • able to work but currently not employed
  • between the age of 18 and 49

you may only be eligible for SNAP benefits for three months within three years

This is referred to as the "time limit." For an ABAWD to qualify for SNAP beyond the time limit, you must participate or work in a certifying education or training activity for a minimum of 80 hours per month.

This time limit does not apply if you are unable to work due to:

  • physical or mental health reasons
  • pregnancy
  • caring for an infant or family member with a disability

Note: This work or training limitation may be waived in some situations. Your food stamp office will help you determine if you are exempt from this requirement.

 

Additional Eligibility Requirements:

In addition to the income, resource, and work criteria detailed above, you need to meet two more requirements to qualify for food stamps. 

  • Social security number. Everyone in your household must have or apply for a social security number.
  • Legal presence. You must be legally present in the United States. If you are not a US citizen but are here legally, you can still qualify for SNAP — but you’ll likely need to wait five years before obtaining SNAP benefits. Some people can avoid waiting a full five years. If you have household members who are:
  • under 18
  • disabled
  • asylees
  • refugees

OR if you have a decent amount of work history 

OR if you have a connection to the military,
you may be able to avoid waiting five years. 

How Do I Calculate My Net Income? 

The lower your net income, the more likely you are to qualify for food stamps.

To this end, it’s important to know that when calculating your net income, seven deductions are allowed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

To figure out your net income:

  1. Add up all income sources for your household, before any taxes or other deductions are taken out.  That's your gross income.
  2. Determine which allowable deductions apply to you.
  3. Subtract that amount from your gross income .
  4. The difference is your net income.

 

What Doesn’t Count as Income for Food Stamps?

How do you know what you can deduct from your gross income?

There are seven deductions:

  1.  Deduction from your earned income

You may deduct 20% of all earned household income. For example, if you earn $1300 per month through your job at a local supermarket, you can deduct $260 of that. 

This deduction applies to all households that have earnings. But it only applies to earned income, so it would exclude income like child support or disability payments. You cannot deduct 20% off those.

  1. Standard household deduction

This deduction applies to all households and can be taken advantage of by all applicants. The exact dollar amount depends on your household size:

  1. Child or dependent care deduction

If your child or dependent needs care so you can go to work, school, or any required training, you can deduct the cost of this care from your gross income.

This deduction covers care costs for children, elderly, and disabled. It does not include animal care.

  1. Approved medical expense deduction

This deduction covers medical expenses that are approved for elderly or disabled household members. To be approved, medical expenses must exceed $35 a month (the first $35 worth of medical expense is not considered) and not be covered by insurance. Most office visit copays, however, are not deductible.

 

  1. Legally owed child support payments

If you are legally obligated to pay for children who do not live in your household, you can deduct these child support payments from your gross income. 

These payments are only eligible for deduction if you have an administrative order, court order, or any other enforceable legal separation contract of agreement stating that you must pay this amount of money.

 

 

  1. Costs of shelter for homeless households

If all members of your household are homeless and reside in a homeless shelter or with another individual, you may deduct a standard amount for shelter and utility costs. For 2022, the homeless shelter standard deduction amount is $159.73 per household.

 

Note: not all states offer this deduction, so if you are homeless, notify your caseworker when applying for SNAP benefits.

 

  1. Excess shelter deduction

This deduction applies to all households. You may deduct allowable shelter costs that exceed more than half the family's income after the other deductions have been subtracted.

For example, if your household pays $650 for shelter, and your net income after all deductions are taken is $800, you may deduct an additional $250 from the $800.

Allowable shelter costs include:

  • Fuel to heat and cook with
  • Utility expenses (like electricity and water)
  • The basic fee for one mobile line
  • Rent or mortgage payments and interest
  • Taxes on the property

Now that we have gone through the different possible deductions, you can use this formula to calculate your net income. 

Can I Have a Car and Still Get Food Stamps?

The short answer is yes — but it depends on your state and the value of your car.

When you apply for SNAP benefits, your caseworker will determine your eligibility based on your income, household size, and resources. If the value of the resources you own is too high, it could disqualify you from getting food stamps.

But not all the resources you own count when determining food stamp eligibility. “Countable” resources include cash and any resources easily converted into cash — like cars owned by members of the household.  

According to USDA’s vehicle policy, up to ~$4,650 of a vehicle’s value is excluded from resources. For example, if your vehicle’s worth is $5,000, only $350 of that total is considered to be a resource. 

 

In some cases, the vehicle's entire worth is exempt. For example:

  • if you reside in the vehicle
  • if the vehicle is used to make money
  • if you use it to transfer a disabled family member
  • if its equity value is $1,500 or less.

Note: States are allowed to disregard USDA regulations and set their own rules about when vehicles count as a resource. Many states exclude cars as an asset, regardless of their worth or practical use. Some of these states follow the less strict vehicle policy of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in place of the SNAP vehicle guidelines. 

Other states also bend the vehicle policy and set their own rules.

Does Rent Affect Food Stamps?

 

Yes, your rent or mortgage significantly impact your food stamp benefits. 

Typically, the higher the costs of your housing, the higher the value of your food stamps. However, the formula to calculate food stamps benefits is complicated, so it depends on your household and may not apply to everyone. 

 

If you do not pay rent or utilities, food stamp benefits are typically lower. 

But if you pay any amount — even just a small amount — your food stamps benefit will increase.

 

Can I Get Food Stamps if I Don’t Pay Rent?

 

In most cases, yes — a person who doesn’t pay rent can still qualify for food stamps. 

Who may need food stamp assistance even if they do not pay rent?

  • Homeless individuals
  • College students
  • Individuals who live with friends or family

If you do not pay rent, your food stamp benefits are likely to be lower than those who do pay rent. 

 

However, there are certain housing situations which disqualify you for food stamps, whether you pay rent or not. 

  • Young adults living with their parents 

If you are a young adult who resides in your parent’s home, you will likely not be eligible for food stamps benefits since you are included as part of your parent’s household food stamp benefit.

Once you are 22 years old, you may be able to claim your food stamps benefit even while living with your parents.

 

  • Boarders 

If you rent a room with someone and also pay that individual for at least half of your weekly expenses for meals, you are considered to be a “boarder.” As a “boarder,” you are not able to apply as a separate household and thus not eligible for food stamp benefits.

 

If you only pay for a room or reside in an individual’s home without paying for your meals, you are considered to be a “roomer.” If you are a “roomer,” you may be eligible for food stamp benefits as a separate household; however you must buy and prepare most of your meals apart from the other members occupying the house. 


Definition

Eligible for food stamps?

Boarder

Rents a room 

and pays for half of weekly meal expenses

No

Roomer

Rents a room 

but does not pay for meals

Yes — if they buy and prepare meals apart from other household members

 

What is the Income Limit for Food Stamps 2022?

 

To be eligible for food stamps benefits in 2022, your income must fall below a government-determined limit. Yet what exactly qualifies as income? 

According to the USDA, the two main sources that SNAP counts as income are:

  • Income that you earned (before the deduction of payroll taxes)
  • Income you did not earn (these includes Social Security, cash assistance, child support, and unemployment insurance)

 

To qualify for food stamps benefits, the total amount of your household income must fall below a certain number — 130% of the federal poverty level. 

Here is a list of approximate income limits to be eligible for food stamps:

 

As you can see from the chart, the more people in your household, the higher your income can be to qualify for food stamps. 

What Income Does NOT Count for SNAP in 2022?

Not all income counts toward your SNAP benefits. 

Some types of income may be exempt from being counted toward your Snap benefits. For example a lump sum such as an inheritance or tax credit, may not be included when calculating your total income for SNAP. Your caseworker will help you determine whether you are eligible for SNAP benefits with the income you have.

 

Can SNAP See My Bank Account?

To apply for SNAP and determine the amount of food stamps you will receive, you must provide your personal information. Can SNAP check your bank account for money going in and out?

 

SNAP cannot access your bank account without your permission. The Right to Financial Privacy Act protects the privacy of your checking account information. However, if you want to get benefits, state and federal policies may require you to provide access to your bank account, including your deposits, withdrawals, and recent statements.

For example, to check your eligibility for food stamps, the Department of Social Services or SNAP distributing office might need to view your current bank statements. These agencies might also request other financial information from your bank, with your consent.

 

IMPORTANT: Refusing to cooperate or consent to sharing your bank statements or other financial information can result in denial of benefits.

 

Can I Reapply for Food Stamps?

 

If you’ve been denied SNAP benefits in the past due to having too many resources — and you now have less — you can reapply for SNAP benefits at any time.

Conclusion

 

Many people who are entitled by law to food stamps feel uneasy or uncomfortable about accepting these benefits. 

Yet there is nothing shameful about getting help when you need it. 

The SNAP policies are strict enough to make sure that only individuals who truly need the benefits will receive them.

 Think of SNAP and different government assistance programs as a form of insurance. 

All taxpayers pay into the system, like you’d pay an insurance premium. Then when someone needs assistance, they can take money out, just like sick people would get health insurance coverage to pay for medical fees. The same person who takes cash out of the system this year may pay next year, while those paying in this year may need it next year. 

Ultimately, SNAP is a way to ensure that we all get the food and nutrition we need — because that is good for everyone. 

Remember, if you are eligible for food stamps, it’s likely that you also qualify for CDPAP, a Consumer-Directed Personal Assistance Program. This program allows family members or friends to care for a loved one at home — and get paid instantly, funded by Medicaid.  Click here to learn more.