Florida isn’t very transparent about how its benefits programs work, so we’re taking a deep dive into the eligibility rules and procedures for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This can help you anticipate whether you’re eligible for food stamps, how much you may qualify to receive, and how the program works in general.
We’ve tried to keep this explanation as simple as possible while still including the most important information you’re likely to need. SNAP is a pretty complex program, so if you want to geek out on all the rules, see the DCF Program Policy Manual.
Who runs the SNAP program?
SNAP is a federal-state partnership program first established in 1931. It’s overseen, and benefits are fully funded by, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets many of the program rules. States have the ability to customize some aspects of the program for their individual needs, and Florida has done so. The rules discussed here are specific to Florida and apply only to this state.
SNAP is the official program name used by USDA (it used to be called “Food Stamps”), but the state of Florida calls it the “Food Assistance Program.” It’s run by the Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF).
What can you buy with SNAP?
SNAP provides a monthly allowance that you can use to purchase healthy food necessary to maintain a nutritious diet. You can use your benefits to pay for bread, cereal, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products. You can also buy plants and seeds to grow your own food if you wish.
You can’t use your benefits to buy pet food, soap, paper products, household supplies, grooming items, alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, or medicine. Nor can you purchase hot food or food prepared to eat in the store, such as deli sandwiches.
How much does Florida pay in SNAP?
The amount of SNAP you receive depends on your income, expenses, and household size. The maximum allowable benefit you can receive per month in Florida is listed below; your actual amount may be lower.
The benefit amounts listed below are effective October 1, 2020.
|Number of People in Assistance Group||Maximum Monthly Benefit|
|For each additional person, add||+$153|
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida has received permission from the USDA to temporarily increase SNAP benefits to the maximum allowed for all recipients for the months of March–October 2020. (If you’re already eligible for the maximum, however, there’s no increase for you.) These temporary increases may be extended for future months, as well; the state must apply for permission each month.
SNAP Confers Eligibility for Additional Aid
If you’re approved for SNAP, even if your benefit is normally a small amount, you automatically qualify to receive additional financial aid from other programs, including phone & high-speed internet assistance, career training scholarships through Career Source Florida, and half-price Amazon Prime membership (see our recommendation for how to use the Amazon perk to cut cable TV costs.)
How do you apply for SNAP benefits?
Complete an online application using the ACCESS Florida system. Once your application has been submitted, you may be called for a brief interview and required to submit certain documents to verify your information.
The USDA requires that Florida process all SNAP applications in a timely manner and give you a decision within 30 days, as long as you don’t delay the process by failing to comply with interview and documentation requirements.
If your monthly income is less than $150 and available assets are less than $100, the state is required to expedite your case and give you a decision in 7 days. If your monthly gross income plus liquid assets are less than your monthly rent/mortgage plus utilities, you are also entitled to 7-day expedited service.
Getting Your SNAP Benefits
If approved for SNAP, you’ll usually receive at least six months of benefits, after which you’ll need to re-certify your eligibility. Some families are approved for four or twelve months.
Your benefits are delivered to you on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. You’ll receive a physical card in the mail. Each month, your benefits will be electronically transferred onto the card by DCF.
Use the EBT card at the grocery store register to pay, just as you would with any credit or debit card. Any items that can’t be charged to your card will result in a balance due, which you can pay using cash or another card. You can also use the card to purchase groceries online at Amazon and WalMart; these are the only two online retailers with USDA approval to accept EBT cards.
You can check the balance on your card and view your transaction history online at EBTEdge. The card itself doesn’t expire when your benefits do; the state will place future months of benefits on this same card as long as you’re eligible.
SNAP eligibility rules
You must be able to show proof of identity, provide a Social Security Number or proof you’ve applied for one, be a U.S. citizen or have a qualified non-citizen status, and live in the state of Florida.
The requirements above apply to everyone in your household or “Assistance Group” for which you’re applying. An Assistance Group is two more people living together, sharing food expenses, and generally cooking & eating together. So for example, an unmarried couple living together and combining finances would constitute an Assistance Group and apply together, but two roommates who purchase their own food separately don’t and should apply for SNAP individually. Married couples and single adults living with children under age 22 are always considered part of an Assistance Group.
- College students are eligible for SNAP only if they meet at least one of the conditions listed on page 4 of the Florida Food Assistance Program Fact Sheet.
- Normally, healthy adults aged 18 to 49 who don’t have dependent children must be working unless one of these exceptions applies. (If no exception applies and you’re in this category, you can still get food assistance, but only for one three-month period every three years). Due to COVID-19, Florida has waived the work requirement for all SNAP recipients for the months of March–October 2020, so it doesn’t apply during this time.
- If you have a dependent child with an absent parent and aren’t receiving child support, you may be required to cooperate with Child Support Enforcement as a condition of receiving SNAP.
SNAP financial asset limits
In Florida, there is no asset test for SNAP, except in limited circumstances. This means that any financial resources you have won’t be a barrier to receiving SNAP. You’ll still be asked about your assets on the application, though. When answering this question, don’t report the value of your home or retirement accounts. If asked about your vehicle, report only the net value after any outstanding loans you have. Do report the value of your liquid assets such as savings & checking accounts.
SNAP income limits
The SNAP application process looks at the monthly (not annual) income for everyone in your Assistance Group. If the total income is below these guidelines for a specific month, you may qualify for benefits. There is a two-step income eligibility test.
Income test: Step 1
The total gross monthly income (before taxes) for your group cannot exceed the following limits. (These limits change yearly and represent 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.)
When calculating your gross monthly income, don’t include any CARES Act grant help you received, any LIHEAP help for utility bills you received, or your CARES Act stimulus check. Do include any unemployment benefits, including any special supplements–but only if you’re actually receiving them.
The following gross monthly income limits are effective October 1, 2020.
|Number of People in Assistance Group||Gross Monthly Income Limit|
|For each additional person||+$748|
If your group’s gross monthly income is lower than the amount corresponding to your group size shown above, proceed to Income Test: Step 2.
If your group’s gross monthly income is higher than the amount corresponding to your group size shown above, STOP. You are not currently eligible for SNAP. If your income falls below this number in a future month, you may be eligible at that time.
Income test: Step 2
This step is trickier and a little sneaky, because it favors people who are working. Once you’ve passed Income Test: Step 1, certain deductions from your group’s income are applied, and the resulting number has to pass a second test.
The deductions from gross monthly income are:
- 20% of earned income (no deduction for unearned income like unemployment)
- Standard deduction based on household size: $167 for households of 3 persons or less, plus approximately $15 for each extra person for larger households
- Child care costs if needed to work, look for work, or attend school
- If disabled or age 60+, unreimbursed medical expenses over $35
- Court-ordered child support payments
- An allowance for housing costs
- A standard allowance for utilities: $361 if you pay for heating & cooling costs
After these deductions, your net income for the month must be at or below the following limits. (These limits change yearly and represent 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.)
The following net monthly income limits are effective October 1, 2020.
|Number of People in Assistance Group||Net Monthly Income after Deductions|
|For each additional person, add||+$374|
How are monthly SNAP benefits calculated?
The final step in the process is to compute your monthly benefit. The lower your income is (after deductions), the more you’ll receive in monthly benefits. For example, if your net income is zero, you’ll be eligible for maximum benefits. If your net income is close to but not over the limits shown in the table, you’ll receive a small allotment.
SNAP Eligibility Calculator
To estimate your own SNAP eligibility with step-by-step calculations, see our SNAP Eligibility Calculator here. It’s useful if you want to know specifically how your eligibility would be computed, where you could possibly make adjustments, or where you’re reporting information incorrectly. It’s also helpful for working out whether you should appeal any unfavorable DCF decision.
If you just want a quick estimate of your SNAP eligibility, use the online eligibility estimator tool at Access Florida.