Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of the federal food assistance programs and provides support and assistance to families who need it most.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is housed at the federal level at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). State agencies administer the program at state and local levels, including determination of eligibility and allotments as well as distribution of benefits.

Why did the Food Stamp Program change to the name SNAP?

The Food Stamp Program in South Dakota transitioned to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in July 2009, to be consistent with changes at the federal level.

Who is eligible to receive SNAP benefits?

Households must meet eligibility requirements and provide information and verification about their household circumstances.

To participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:

  • Households may have no more than $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account ($3,000 if at least one person in the household is disabled or age 60 or older). Certain resources are not counted, such as a home and lot.
  • The gross monthly income of most households must be 130 percent or less of the Federal poverty guidelines ($2,297 per month for a family of four in most places). Gross income includes all cash payments to the household, with a few exceptions specified in the law or the program regulations.
  • Net monthly income must be 100 percent or less of the Federal poverty guidelines ($1,767 per month for a family of four in most places). Net income is figured by adding all of a household's gross income, and then taking a number of approved deductions for child care, some shelter costs and other expenses. Households with an elderly or disabled member are subject only to the net income test.
  • Most able-bodied adult applicants must meet certain work requirements.
  • All household members must provide a Social Security number or apply for one, if they wish to receive benefits.
  • Federal poverty guidelines are established by the Office of Management and Budget and are updated annually by the Department of Health and Human Services.

What foods are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits?

Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:

  • Foods for the household to eat such as breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; meats, fish and poultry; and dairy products.
  • Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.

Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;
  • Any nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products and household supplies
  • Vitamins and medicines.
  • Food that will be eaten in the store.
  • Hot foods

How is each household's SNAP allotment determined?

Eligible households are issued a monthly allotment of SNAP benefits based on the Thrifty Food Plan, a low-cost model diet plan. The TFP is based on National Academy of Sciences’ Recommended Dietary Allowances, and on food choices of low-income households. An individual household's SNAP allotment is equal to the maximum allotment for that household's size, less 30 percent of the household's net income.

What are some characteristics of SNAP households?

SNAP statistics for South Dakota as of April 2008:

  • Almost half of all participants are children (under age 18).
  • 69 percent of food stamp recipients are children, elderly and disabled persons.
  • 6.7 percent of all participants are elderly (age 60 or over).
  • The average food stamp household size is 2 persons.
  • Among adult participants, 57 percent are women and 43 percent are men.
  • 62.6 percent of participants are white; 38.5 percent are Native American; 3.6 percent are in the other category. (The total exceeds 100 percent due to people claiming multiple races.)

What measures are taken to prevent SNAP benefit fraud?

USDA is committed to integrity in all of its nutrition assistance programs and has put special emphasis on the Food Stamp Program because of its size and importance.

The Department has already taken a number of steps to make it easier to catch and punish people who misuse SNAP benefits. The welfare reform act of 1996 included several provisions, originally proposed by USDA, to more closely scrutinize food retailers who apply for food stamp authorization and to more closely monitor retailers once they are participating in the program.

Retailers who violate program rules can face heavy fines, removal from the program, or jail. Individual SNAP recipients who sell their benefits can also be removed from the program.

One of the most promising developments in the fight against SNAP benefit fraud has been the increasing use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) to issue SNAP benefits. EBT uses a plastic card similar to a bank debit card to transfer funds from a SNAP benefits account to a retailer's account. With an EBT card, SNAP customers pay for groceries without any paper coupons changing hands. EBT eliminates paper coupons and creates an electronic record for each transaction that makes fraud easier to detect.

What keeps unqualified people from getting SNAP benefits?

As part of the commitment to program integrity, USDA works closely with the states to ensure they issue their benefits correctly. State workers carefully evaluate each application to determine eligibility and the appropriate level of benefits. USDA monitors the accuracy of eligibility and benefit determinations. States that fail to meet standards for issuing their SNAP benefits correctly can be sanctioned by USDA and those exceeding the standard for payment accuracy can be eligible for additional funding support. People who receive SNAP benefits in error must repay any benefits for which they did not qualify.

When did the program begin?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program traces its earliest origins back to the Food Stamp Plan, which began in 1939 to help needy families in the Depression Era. The modern program began as a pilot project in 1961 and was authorized as a permanent program in 1964. Expansion of the program occurred most dramatically after 1974, when Congress required all states to offer food stamps to low-income households. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 made significant changes in program regulations, tightening eligibility requirements and administration, and removing the requirement that benefits be purchased by participants.