Food Stamps

What can you use food stamps for?

You can use food stamps to buy food and seeds and plants to grow food for your household to eat. Food stamps can be used at a grocery store, a supermarket, a farmer’s market, a shelter that serves meals, or at a soup kitchen. You cannot use food stamps to buy non-food items, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, pet food, vitamins, medicines, lunch counter items, or foods to be eaten in the store. Restaurants can be authorized to accept food stamps from qualified recipients (homeless, elderly or disabled) in exchange for meals. Sales tax cannot be charged on items bought with food stamps. Food stamps cannot be exchanged for cash.

How are food stamps paid out to you?

Pennsylvania uses Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) to deliver food stamp benefits. For every month you are eligible, your benefits are automatically deposited into your EBT account. You receive a plastic card with a magnetic strip and a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to access your EBT account at authorized food outlets. The cost of the food stamp items you purchase will be subtracted from the amount in your food stamp EBT account. Once your transaction is completed you will receive a receipt that shows the amount of your food stamp purchase and the amount of food stamp benefits remaining.

Who is eligible for food stamps?

Most low-income households are eligible for food stamps. Households that are not eligible for other public benefits may be eligible for food stamps. The income limit for this program is nearly twice as high as the income limit for cash assistance. Even people who are homeless or live in a temporary shelter may be eligible. You do not need a permanent address or cooking facilities. However, in many cases, college students and persons who are on strike are not eligible.

What does “household” mean?

People who live together and buy food and prepare meals together are grouped as a “household” even if they are not related. There can be one or more separate food stamp households in a residence. Some household members (spouses and most children under age 22) must be included in the same household.

Here are some examples:
Judy and her two children share a house with Karen and her daughter. They prepare meals and eat separately. They are not related. Judy (and her two children) and Karen (and her daughter) are two separate households.
Ken and Susan share an apartment with Susan’s friend Lynne and her two daughters. They all eat together. All five people are one food stamp household.

Where can you apply for food stamps?

If all members of a household are eligible for SSI, an application for food stamps can be filed at the local social security office. Otherwise, you can apply at your local welfare office or online through the┬áCOMPASS┬ásystem. If you qualify for food stamps, the welfare office has 30 days to provide you with food stamps. Benefits will begin from the day the application is turned in. In some emergency situations, you may be entitled to begin receiving food stamps within 7 days after you apply. If you qualify for emergency food stamps, proof of identification (such as a driver’s license) is the only thing you must show to get the first month’s benefit. You will have to supply other required documentation if you want to keep getting the food stamps.

What are the resource limits for food stamps?

Some households are not eligible for food stamps because they own too many “countable” resources, like stocks and bonds. Certain resources are not counted, such as your home, and one motor vehicle. A household’s second vehicle will not be counted if it is worth less than $4,650 and is needed for work or job training. In some special cases (like when a motor vehicle is needed to transport a physically disabled household member), the motor vehicle is not counted regardless of its value. Households are permitted to have $2,000 worth of countable resources (such as cash, savings, bond, and excess car value). If at least one person in the household is age 60 or older, the countable resource limit is $3,000. If you are receiving cash assistance or SSI, you are eligible for food stamps regardless of your resources.

What are the income limits for food stamps?

If everyone in your household is receiving cash assistance or SSI, you are eligible for food stamps regardless of your income. If your household contains an elderly or disabled person and if you have high medical expenses or high shelter costs, you may be eligible for food stamps regardless of your income. For other households, the gross monthly income cannot exceed these limits:

Household Members
Gross Monthly Income Limit

Once you are eligible for food stamps, how is the amount of the food stamp allotment determined?

The amount of food stamps received is called an allotment and is determined by the number of people in the household, the amount of income, and the amount of certain household expenses. The maximum amount of food stamps that can be received per month by a household of one person is $162, of two persons is $298, and of three persons is $426. Food stamps are not intended to pay for all of the food needed for a month.

What if your household income changes every month?

A Monthly Reporting Form which gives information about your income and circumstances may be required. The information you report is usually used to determine the amount of your allotment approximately two months later. It is extremely important to follow the reporting requirements so that your household gets the right amount of food stamps.

Do you have to participate in a work or training activities to be eligible for food stamps?

All able bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties will, beginning March 1, 2016, be limited to three months of Food Stamps, unless they fulfill work requirements. This does not apply to the following- residents of McKeesport in Allegheny County and New Castle in Lawrence County.

Do you have to file for child support to be eligible for food stamps?