FAQs: SNAP (Food Stamps)

Q: What is SNAP (previously food stamps)?

A: The federal government started the Food Stamp Program more than 30 years ago to fight hunger. Now called SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the program helps low-income people buy groceries. That helps them pay for other needs, like rent, heat or childcare.

People used to get paper stamps to buy food. Today, they use an Electrical Benefits Transfer (EBT) Card. In Pennsylvania, this is called an ACCESS Card. It works like a debit card and can be used at most grocery stores, farmers’ markets and corner stores.

For a list of supermarkets and other retailers that accept SNAP benefits, see the USDA's SNAP Retail Locator. For a list of farmers' markets that accept SNAP, download this list from Get Healthy Philly [pdf].

Top of Page

Q: Who can get SNAP?

A: It depends on a person's income, expenses, assets and household size. Income includes job wages, public assistance, unemployment compensation, SSI (Supplemental Security Income), retirement benefits, pensions, veteran's benefits and child support. Expenses include rent or mortgage, utility bills, property taxes, shelter costs and childcare. Assets include liquid resources, specifically cash on hand, checking and savings accounts, stocks and bonds, and vehicles, excluding one car. 

See SNAP (Food Stamp) Income Limits  OR read more about the asset test for SNAP.

Top of Page

Q: How many people use SNAP?

A: To find out how many people in Philadelphia, the five-county region and Pennsylvania are enrolled in SNAP, see our most recent SNAP statistics.

Top of Page

Q: Can someone who owns a home or a car get SNAP?

A: Yes. As long as they meet the income limits. People can apply for SNAP, even if:

  • They own a home or car.
  • They have a bank account.
  • They are homeless.
  • They are immigrants.
  • They have a criminal record.

Top of Page

Q: Are immigrants eligible to receive SNAP?

A: The eligibility rules for SNAP (food stamps) for immigrants can be confusing with many exceptions and qualifications, but here are the basics:

Basic Rule
Documented immigrants must live in the U.S. legally for at least 5 years before they can receive SNAP

Exceptions
The following exceptions apply to the rule above:

  • Children: Documented immigrants (and citizen children of immigrants) under 18 are eligible regardless of how long they have been in the U.S. and regardless of their parents’ immigration status.
  • Disabled: Immigrants receiving disability benefits, such as SSI or disability-related Medicaid are eligible.
  • Refugees and Asylees: If they meet income limits, they are eligible for 7 years after entering the U.S.

Undocumented immigrants and those on student or tourist visas are not eligible to receive SNAP.

Q: What can I buy with SNAP?

A: Cold foods and other items like coffee, spices and seeds to grow food for your own use. SNAP cannot buy hot, prepared foods, alcohol, cigarettes, paper goods, toiletries, medicine, cleaning supplies or diapers.

Top of Page

Q: How do I apply for SNAP in Philadelphia?

A: There are three ways:

  • Call the Coalition’s Food Stamp Hotline 215-430-0556.
    A hotline counselor can tell you if you qualify and help you apply by phone. Open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Apply in person at your County Assistance Office.
    If you don't know where your office is, call the Food Stamp Hotline: 215-430-0556. We will help you find it.
  • Apply online through COMPASS, run by the state Department of Public Welfare.

Top of Page

Q: What paperwork will I need to apply?

A: It depends. In general, the County Assistance Office may ask for:

  • Proof of ID
  • Proof of Social Security Numbers
  • Birth certificates for children (though not required)
  • Proof of residency
  • Pay stubs for the past month
  • Proof of other income, including Social Security, worker’s compensation, unemployment, child support, pension, SSI or SSD
  • Proof of assets or liquid resources

The County Assistance Office is required to help you get any required documents. If you do not have these documents, you may be able to use a “collateral contact.” A collateral contact is someone who can be expected to give reliable information about you, such as an employer, a neighbor, a landlord, a social service agency, etc.

Top of Page

Q: What happens after I apply for SNAP?

A: You have 30 days from the day you apply to provide the documents that your County Assistance Office asks for. The County Assistance Office has 30 days to approve or deny your application. In that time, the office should contact you to schedule an interview, which can take place in person or over the phone.

You can also drop off your application and documents to the office and wait for an interview. Interviews are first-come, first-served.

You may also mail copies of your documents to the office. Never submit original documents.

We recommend that you drop off or fax documents to the office, instead of sending them by mail, to ensure they arrive. If you drop off documents at the office, be sure to ask for a receipt.

Top of Page

Q: Can I get my SNAP benefits before 30 days?

A: Only if you qualify for "expedited," or emergency, SNAP benefits. That means:

  • The value of total liquid resources is $100 or less and countable monthly gross income is less than $150; OR
  • The household’s combined monthly gross income and liquid resources are less than their monthly shelter expenses. Shelter expenses include rent or mortgage, property taxes, homeowner's insurance, and the appropriate standard utility allowance; OR
  • All members are migrant workers or seasonal farm workers who have $100 or less in liquid resources and have nothing else to live on.

People who qualify for expedited SNAP benefits must get them within 5 calendar days.

Top of Page

Q: How do I check on my application for SNAP?

A: If you have not heard from your County Assistance Office within three weeks, call the Department of Public Welfare's Change Center: 215-560-7226.

Top of Page

Q: What if I still need help getting SNAP?

A: Call the Coalition's SNAP (Food Stamp) Hotline: 215-430-0556.