SNAP and SSI - Accessing Your Benefits

If you’re eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), chances are that you worry about whether you can buy groceries for the week. Perhaps there have been times where you’ve had to choose between paying for housing and purchasing food.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was developed for those who have low income and resources. It is specifically meant to address the health issues that often arise in low-income situations.

Did you know that if you qualify for SSI, you also qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

This is critical for someone who has a disability to know, as the negative impact of nutritional deficiency on people with disabilities is massive.

According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the United States have a disability. That’s 1 in 4 people, or over 25% of the population. Adults living with disabilities are more likely than able-bodied adults to…

  • Have obesity – 38.2% (of adults with disabilities)
  • Smoke – 28.2%
  • Have heart disease – 11.5%
  • Have diabetes – 16.3%

The 2020 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows that of the U.S. adult population living with disabilities, 25.9% were living in poverty in 2019. That’s over twice as many as those in poverty without disabilities (11.4% of the adult population).

Truly, those most in need of nutrition assistance are people with disabilities who live in poverty.

If this is you, know that there is help available. This article is meant for those who want to apply for disability benefits, specifically for SSI, and require government nutritional assistance as well. We will be discussing what SNAP is, what makes someone eligible, and how SNAP relates to SSI.

What is SNAP and Do I Qualify?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps, is a federal program to help those living near the poverty level purchase nutritious food. You can get SNAP through the local SNAP office run by your state if you have little income and resources.

Each state has their own SNAP eligibility requirements, but under federal rules a household’s income and resources must meet three criteria:

  1. Gross monthly income – household income prior to applying program’s deductions – is generally at or below 130 percent of the poverty line
  2. Net income – household income after deductions are applied must be at or below the poverty line
  3. Assets – must fall below $2,500 for households without a family member who is elderly (age 60 or older) or has a disability; for households with an elderly or disabled family member, assets must be $3,750 or less

Federal poverty level (FPL) is calculated based on the number of people in a household. The fewer people in a household, the lower the FPL. If a household is larger, the FPL is higher. The FPL for a three-person family is $23,030 as of 2022.

If you are eligible for SSI, you automatically qualify for SNAP and can apply for SNAP in 49 states.

It's important to know Social Security's rules of eligibility when you apply for disability income. Some of the criteria of eligibility for SSI are as follows:

  • You are aged 65 or older
  • You are blind
  • You have a significant, medically verified physical or mental impairment

And…

  • You are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA)
  • You have limited income and resources
  • You are a U.S. citizen or national or in a certain category of aliens
  • You are a resident of the United State, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands
  • You are not absent from the country for 30 consecutive days or more
  • You are not confined to an institution (like a hospital or prison)

…among other requirements.

Again, if your situation fits the SSI eligibility requirements, then you generally qualify for SNAP as well.

The only state that is an exception is California. A food assistance benefit is included in the State Supplementary Payment (SSP). If you apply for SSI in California, you will be eligible for CalFresh (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the state) if you meet the other eligibility criteria outlined by the state.

If you are receiving SSI payments but are not yet receiving SNAP benefits, contact your local SNAP office to start the application process. You can find an office using the SNAP State Directory of Resources.

If you aren’t sure whether your medical condition qualifies you for SSI, you can read our article about the definition of disability here.

As you read through some of Social Security’s eligibility requirements to see if you qualify, you may meet some obstacles.

For example, the language used in the Listing of Impairments can be difficult for some people to read and many of the sections are quite long. It may be overwhelming to read through the section that applies to you without assistance.

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted family member or friend to assist you with reading the relevant information.

Finally, if you feel that you cannot determine your eligibility for disability benefits on your own, we recommend seeking a disability case evaluation conducted by a trustworthy legal professional.

Now that you know a little more about what SNAP is and what the eligibility criteria are, you may be wondering how the program works.

How Does SNAP Work?

When you’re approved for SNAP, you will receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. The EBT card works like a debit card, and SNAP benefits are loaded onto the card each month.

There is no need to worry about losing the remaining balance of benefits at the end of the month. Remaining SNAP benefits from your EBT account at the end of the month roll over to the next month.

You can use your SNAP benefits at participating grocery stores in your state. There are many large-scale retailers who partner with SNAP. You can see which stores participate using the SNAP Retailer Locator.

If you are unable to leave the house and have no one to pick up groceries for you, there are retailers participating in SNAP who can delivery groceries to your door. You can see which online retailers in your state participate in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot here.

It is important to note that SNAP is meant to address nutritional needs for low-income people.

The program not only provides benefits, but also relevant education. SNAP Education (SNAP-Ed) provides resources for state agencies who can educate SNAP users about how to shop for nutritious foods, cook healthful meals, and make the most of their benefits.

The best place to find nutrition education resources with your local SNAP office. If these are not available through your local office, SNAP-Ed also has resources on their Nutrition Education page, such as the Seasonal Produce Guide and SNAP-Ed Recipes, that SNAP users can reference to inform their purchasing and cooking decisions.

Because of SNAP’s focus on nutrition, not everything you see in a grocery store can be purchased using SNAP benefits.

According to the USDA, SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food items such as:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Bread and cereals
  • Other foods, such as snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Seeds and plants that produce food for you to eat

You cannot use SNAP benefits to purchase:

  • Alcoholic beverages or tobacco products
  • Vitamins, medicines, and supplements (that is, anything with a supplement facts label)
  • Live animals (except for shellfish, fish removed from water, and animals slaughtered prior to pick-up from the store)
  • Food items that are hot at the point of sale
  • Any non-food items (including pet food, household supplies, and hygiene or cosmetic items)

If you apply for SNAP and are approved, keep in mind that your nutrition has a major impact on your body. Poor nutrition can make a serious medical condition even worse. The best way to use SNAP benefits is to purchase food that truly nourishes your body.

With that said, you may be wondering if there is a benefits period for SNAP and how long the benefits period lasts.

The short answer is that the length of time you receive benefits is determined by the state in which you live.

According to the USDA, here is how the process works: once your SNAP application is approved, you will receive a notice that tells you the length of your SNAP benefits certification period.

Before the certification period ends, you’ll receive another notice telling you to recertify so that you can keep receiving SNAP. Check with your local SNAP office for information about recertifying. Again, you can find an office near you using the SNAP State Directory of Resources.

SNAP and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) FAQ

You may have some questions about SNAP as it relates to SSI. We’ll answer the most common questions here. If there is a question you have that isn’t covered here, you may be able to get an answer by calling the SNAP information line toll-free at 1-800-221-5689.

1. How does receiving SSI impact my monthly SNAP benefit amount?

It doesn’t. Though SNAP accounts for household resources (such as money in a bank account) when calculating your benefit amount, there are certain resources that do not count toward this calculation.

According to the USDA, resources that are not counted include:

  • A home and lot;
  • Resources of those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
  • Resources of those who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);
  • Most retirement and pension plans (withdrawals from such accounts may count as resources depending on the frequency of withdrawal)

If you are approved to receive SSI, the amount you receive in monthly SSI payments does not lessen your SNAP benefit amount.

Your SNAP benefit amount will be calculated based on other income and resources you may have, not including SSI benefits.

2. Can I receive SNAP while I’m waiting for my disability claim application to be approved?

Yes. If you are financially eligible for SSI, you are also financially eligible for SNAP. It can take up to 5 months to receive a decision from Social Security about your disability claim application.

If you aren’t sure whether you’re financially eligible for SSI, you can get an online disability case evaluation here at BenefitsClaim.com. One of our case evaluation specialists will be able to help you determine whether you qualify for SSI.

To further answer this question, though the time to receive a decision about your SSI application can feel like forever, the timeline of approval is much shorter for SNAP.

Your state agency or local SNAP office will process your application and send you a notice within 30 days. A decision will be made once you complete your SNAP eligibility interview and verify all the information you provided on your application within the 30-day window.

If you meet certain requirements, you may be able to receive SNAP benefits within 7 days of your application date. For more information, it’s best to contact your state agency or local SNAP office.


3. If my disability claim application is denied, can I still receive SNAP benefits?

Under SNAP’s criteria, you are considered disabled if…

  • You receive SSI or Social Security disability or blindness payments
  • You receive state disability or blindness payments based on SSI rules
  • You receive a disability retirement benefit from a government agency due to a permanent disability
  • You receive an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act and are eligible for Medicare or meet the SSI definition of disability
  • You are a veteran who is totally disabled, permanently homebound, or needs regular aid and attendance
  • You are the surviving spouse or child of a veteran who is receiving VA benefits and is considered permanently disabled

In other words, if you are not receiving federal SSI payments but are paid benefits through your state or another government agency, or are a veteran in dire need, you can still receive SNAP benefits.

For better or worse, Social Security’s definition of disability is very narrow, and the disability claim process is stringent. The reality is that it can be difficult to get an approval. If your application is denied, you can seek an appeal.

In the meantime, even if you do not meet Social Security’s definition of disability, it is still possible to receive SNAP benefits so long as you are financially eligible for the program.

4. Do I have to work if I’m enrolled in SNAP even though I receive SSI?

No. According to the USDA, if you are elderly or disabled, you are not subject to the work requirements of SNAP.

Depending on your living situation, you (and your spouse, if you have one) may be considered a separate SNAP household from the others with whom you live.

Check with a social services worker at your local SNAP office to get more clarity on your specific situation.

5. Can I apply for SNAP and SSI at the same time?

Yes, you can! If you and all those in your household are applying for or already receive SSI payments, Social Security can help you. You can…

  • Call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or at their TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing. Someone can help you complete the SNAP application over the phone.
  • Complete the application in person if you have a scheduled appointment.
  • Request a SNAP application by phone.
  • Ask Social Security to send your completed application to the local SNAP office.

Need Help with the SSI Application Process?

Unfortunately, over 60% of first-time disability claim applications are denied.

Denied disability claims are not necessarily due to ineligibility. They are often due to omissions and simple errors in the information the applicant provided. The application process can be incredibly tedious and overwhelming, and it is easy to make a mistake.

Applicants for benefits often have a much higher chance of getting their application approved if they seek disability benefits assistance.

At BenefitsClaim.com, we offer a free online disability case evaluation conducted by legal professionals who can help you determine your eligibility. There are no up-front costs for the evaluation. It really is free!

From there, if you still need help, you may choose to hire a disability lawyer from our team who can help increase your chance of an approval from Social Security. An experienced disability attorney can build a compelling case for why Social Security should give you the benefits that you truly need and deserve.

To start the process, you can take our free 1-minute survey here or reach out by email to support@benefitsclaim.com. Someone will be in touch with you.

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