*In states with what's called "categorical eligibility," applicants automatically qualify for SNAP if they receive benefits from other public assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, state welfare assistance, and Supplemental Security Income. State rules vary about which programs count toward categorical eligibility.
a) 20 percent of earned income
b) Standard deduction, which varies by household size (e.g., $160 a month for a household of four)
c) Dependent care expenses (when care needed for work or training)
d) Legally owed child support
e) Out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceed $35 a month for elderly or disabled members of the household
f) Shelter costs (utilities, rent, mortgage, and taxes) that exceed more than half the household's income after other deductions
Work requirements: With some exceptions, adults age 16–60 must register for work, accept suitable employment, and/or take part in a training program. Able-bodied adults, age 18–50, who do not have dependents and who are not working or participating in a training program can get SNAP for only 3 months in a 36-month period. This requirement is waived during periods of high unemployment and in areas of high unemployment.
Immigrants: Documented adults must have lived in the country for five years to be eligible. Children under 18, refugees and asylees, and disabled non-citizens are eligible without a waiting period.
Benefit levels are based on the Thrifty Food Plan, a minimal-cost food plan that reflects current nutrition standards, the nutrient content and cost of food, and consumption patterns of low-income households. SNAP benefits are designed to stretch a family's food budget, not cover the full amount. Families are expected to spend 30 percent of their net income on food, so SNAP deducts that 30 percent from the maximum benefit allowed. Households can qualify for several income deductions to provide a better measure of their net income and need for food assistance.
In fiscal year 2012, the maximum allotment for a family of four was $668 a month. To calculate a household's monthly benefit, multiply the household's net monthly income by .30 (30 percent), and subtract that amount from the maximum allotment.
For example, a family of four with a net income of $1,500 a month is expected to spend 30 percent of that, or $450, on food. SNAP deducts that amount from its maximum allotment for a family of four ($668 - $450 = $218), giving the family $218 in monthly SNAP benefits.
Maximum allotments, 2012
1 person $200 5 people $793
2 people $367 6 people $952
3 people $526 7 people $1,052
4 people $668 (add $150 for each additional member)
Maximums are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.