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Food Assistance: SNAP

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; formerly Food Stamp Program


How can SNAP help me?

SNAP may help you pay for much of your monthly food expenses by providing monthly benefits on an electronic debit card, or LINK Card, that can be used at many grocery stores and some farmers’ markets. SNAP is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).

How do I know if I may receive SNAP?

If you are enrolled half-time or more in college or a vocational training program, you are eligible to receive SNAP benefits if (1) your income is low and (2) one or more of the following applies to you:

  • You are participating in an on-the-job training program, or another training program that is designed to help you find employment, whether at a college or training program.
  • You have a physical or mental disability that prevents you from working.
  • Your age is 50 or over.
  • You are employed for an average of 20 hours per week or more.
  • You are enrolled in a federal or state work-study program.
  • You are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
  • You are responsible for the care of a child under 6 (your own child, a niece, or nephew, etc.).
  • You are responsible for the care of a child between the ages of 6 and 11 and you do not have the child care necessary to attend classes and to work or take part in a work-study program.
  • You are a single parent who goes to school on a full-time basis and is responsible for the care of a child under 12.

If you are enrolled less than half-time (as defined by your school), you have to meet only the income guidelines. To qualify during the summer break, you must continue to meet at least one of the above guidelines if you are enrolled half-time or more.

What are the income guidelines?

In order to be eligible, your total monthly income must be at or less than the amounts shown in the table to the right, for your household size. Be sure to include yourself when determining your household size. Households that include a disabled member or anyone over 60 have higher income guidelines. These guidelines are updated annually; check the IDHS website for the most current information.

How do I know if I am in a training program designed to help me find employment?

IDHS will help you determine if you are in an approved program. You will need to obtain a form that should be filled out by your educational institution and that verifies your participation in a career or technical program or in a course of study designed to help you find employment. If you are enrolled in TANF Work and Training activities, the SNAP Employment and Training Program, a Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program, or taking part in on-the-job training program through your employer then you should qualify. Make sure to ask your agency worker for this form. Keep in mind that your agency worker may not have the most up-to-date information and you will have to be a good advocate for yourself.

How much will my SNAP benefits be?

The table to the right shows the maximum amount of monthly benefits you may receive for your household size. Your benefit amount may be less than these amounts, depending on your income and expenses (Learn more).

Benefit amounts may periodically change. You can verify the most current information on the IDHS website, and you can estimate your benefits with the Illinois Legal Aid Online SNAP Calculator.

Note: As of January 1, 2016, the maximum income amounts will increase in Illinois, allowing more people to qualify for SNAP assistance. For a household that includes an elderly, blind, or disabled person, the new income requirement will rise to 200% of the federal poverty level. For households without an elderly, blind, or disabled person, the income limit will rise to 165% of federal poverty level. Please check the IDHS website for specific income amounts on January 1, 2016.

How do I know if I am part of a “household”?

A “household” is defined by those who purchase and prepare meals together. For example, a married couple buys and prepares meals together, but unrelated roommates may have an arrangement where each is responsible for his or her own food purchases and preparation. In some cases you must apply with those you live with, and in other cases you may apply only for yourself.

You may apply for SNAP by yourself if you:

  • Live alone; or
  • Live with others but buy and prepare more than half of your meals separately.

You must apply as a household if you:

  • Are married and living with your spouse;
  • Are a parent of children who are under 22 and live with you;
  • Are under 22 and live with your parents or legal guardian;
  • Are under 19 and live with a caretaker; or
  • Are a caretaker of a person under 19.

You may not receive SNAP if you:

  • Live in a dorm and receive more than half of your meals from a meal plan; or
  • Are enrolled full-time in school or a vocational training program (regardless of whom you live with) and do not meet any of the criteria listed here.

In some instances there may be more than one SNAP “household” within your home, in which case you would apply as multiple households. For example, if you are a single parent and live with a roommate, but you buy and prepare all of your meals and your child’s meals separately from your roommate, you and your child would apply as one SNAP household and your roommate would apply as his or her own household (assuming he or she is eligible). Multiple households always receive more SNAP assistance than if everyone is included in the same household.

What may I buy and not buy with my benefits?

SNAP benefits allow you to buy foods you prepare and eat at home. Items you may not buy with SNAP benefits include:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or other tobacco products
  • Pet foods
  • Nonfood items, such as soap, paper products, or household supplies
  • Vitamins and medicines
  • Prepared hot foods sold at the grocery store, or food meant to be eaten at the grocery store.

Some farmers’ markets also accept the LINK card. You can visit the IDHS website to find out which Illinois farmers’ markets are certified to accept your benefits.

How do I apply for SNAP?

See our instructions on how to apply for SNAP. After your application is processed, your SNAP benefits will start from the date you apply. You should receive your benefits within 30 days of your date of application.

What happens next?

When IDHS receives your signed application, you will receive a letter in the mail with information about the required interview. You can interview in person or over the phone. If you are interviewing over the phone, you need to mail, fax, or submit in person the necessary documents indicated on the letter.

If you are interviewing in person, you need to bring certain things, including:

  • Proof of your identity, such as a state ID, driver’s license, or passport;
  • Proof of your residence, such as a piece of mail addressed to you or a utility bill;
  • Your Social Security card or application for a Social Security ID, as well as for all your household members for whom you also want to get benefits;
  • Proof of your monthly living expenses, such as rent receipts, utility bills, child care receipts, or child-support orders;
  • Proof of your work income and of others in your household, such as your last two paycheck stubs; and
  • Proof of nonwork income that you receive, such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), unemployment compensation, or child support.

The agency worker will inform you if you need to bring other types of documents depending on your individual case. Your application may be delayed or denied, or you may get less benefits than you deserve if you fail to give all of the information required to process your case or if you miss your phone or in-person interview.

More Information and Resources

If you have very little current income (no more than your rent plus utilities for one month) and money on hand (no more than $100), you may qualify for expedited SNAP benefits on your initial application. If you qualify for faster service, you can receive your SNAP within five working days from the date you apply. For more information, including how to apply, visit the DHS website.

If you need help, you can call the IDHS Help Line: 1-800-843-6154.

Call the Illinois Hunger Coalition’s HUNGER HOTLINE at 1-800-359-2163 to get referrals to food pantries throughout Illinois and for help in applying for public benefits programs. Hotline operators can assist you in both English and Spanish.

Direct2Food is a one-stop resource for locating food pantries, soup kitchens, and meal programs closest to you. Go online at Direct 2 Food to learn more.

Another food bank finder is from Feeding America. You can easily search for food resources by your zip code.

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