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Other Resources for Children and Families: TANF, SNAP, and WIC

The federal government offers financial and supplemental food assistance for families living in poverty through the TANF, SNAP, and WIC programs. This article provides helpful information about eligibility criteria and the application processes.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

What is TANF?

TANF provides financial assistance and related support services to families with dependent children. Some of the goals of TANF include:

  • Providing assistance to families so that children can be cared for in their own homes;
  • Promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  • Encouraging the stability of two-parent families.

Who is eligible for TANF?

TANF is available to women who are either pregnant or responsible for a child under 19 years of age. The applicant must also:

  • Be a U.S. national, citizen, legal alien, or permanent resident;
  • Have low or very low income;
  • Be under-employed (working for very low wages), unemployed, or about to become unemployed.

Each state or territory decides the benefits it will provide and the specific eligibility criteria that must be met to receive financial assistance payments or other types of benefits and services.

How to apply for TANF

For information on how to apply for TANF in your state, visit the Office of Family Assistance.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

What is SNAP?

SNAP is a program that is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help low income families maintain healthy diets by reducing the cost of expensive food items like meat, dairy products, or fresh fruits and vegetables.

Who is eligible for SNAP?

To qualify for SNAP, individuals and households must meet certain income and resource limits as well as citizenship and work requirements.

  • For information about eligibility visit the USDA's SNAP Eligibility page .
  • If all members of the household are receiving TANF, SSI, or other general assistance programs, the household may be considered “categorically eligible” for SNAP

Income Limits (for those applying Oct. 1, 2019- Sept. 30, 2020)

Households in the 48 contiguous States and the District of Columbia

  • Gross income (total household income before deductions) must be at or below 130% of the federal poverty line.
  • Net income (total household income after allowable deductions) must be at or below 100% of the federal poverty line.
    • Allowable deductions include expenses such as childcare, medical expenses, and housing costs. Other deductions may apply and will be individually calculated for the family upon application.
  • SNAP income limits are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.

Resource Limits

  • Households may have $2,250 in countable resources (e.g. cash or money in a bank account) or $3,500 in countable resources if at least one member of the household is age 60 or older, or is disabled.
  • Resources NOT counted when determining eligibility for SNAP:
    • A home and lot;
    • Resources of people who receive SSI;
    • Resources of people who receive TANF; and
    • Most retirement and pension plans (withdrawals from these accounts may count as either income or resources depending on how often they occur)
  • Vehicles count as resources, with some exceptions. States determine how vehicles may count toward household resources.

Citizenship Requirements

SNAP recipients must be a U.S. citizen ornon-citizen who is lawfully in the United States and who meets one of the following criteria:

  • Has lived in the United States for at least 5 years.
  • Is receiving disability-related assistance or benefits.
  • Has child(ren) under 18 years of age.

Work requirements

  • Able-bodied adults between 18 and 50 years of age can only receive SNAP for 3 months in a 3-year period unless they are participating in a work or workfare program.

    • Households that consist entirely of elderly or disabled members are not subject to work requirements
  • Unemployed adults must:
  • Work requirements do not apply to:
    • Children, Seniors, or Pregnant women
    • People who are exempt for physical or mental health reasons
    • Households that consist entirely of elderly or disabled members

SNAP Benefit Amounts

  • The total amount of SNAP benefits a household gets each month is called an allotment.
  • Individuals are expected to pay 30% of the household’s food costs. Their allotment is calculated by multiplying the household’s net monthly income by 0.3 and subtracting the result from the maximum monthly allotment for their household size.
SNAP Maximum Monthly Allotment Based on Household Size*
People in Household Maximum Monthly Allotment
1 $ 192
2 $ 352
3 $ 504
4 $ 640
5 $ 760
6 $ 913
7 $ 1,009
8 $ 1,153
Each additional person $ 144

*Allotments are different in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

How are SNAP benefits disbursed?

  • SNAP benefits are disbursed monthly by local SNAP agencies to a plastic debit-like card, also known as an Electronic Benefit Transfer or EBT card .
  • EBT cards can be used at approved grocery locations - look for the EBT logo or ask at the customer service desk.

What can be purchased with SNAP benefits?

  • SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food items (e.g., bread, cereal, fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry and dairy products) or seeds and plants to grow food.

    • In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.
  • SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase items such as pet food, household items, toiletries, alcoholic beverages, tobacco or cigarettes, vitamins, non-food items, or hot foods.

How to apply for SNAP

  • Contact your local SNAP agency directly, as each state has a different application process.

    • Visit the USDA website to find your local SNAP office
    • Some states have online applications that can be completed from the state agency website.
  • If found eligible, applicants will receive a notice that indicates a certification period (i.e. how long they will receive SNAP benefits) after which the state SNAP agency will provide information about how to re-certify.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

What is WIC?

WIC provides nutritious supplemental foods and other health services and support women living in poverty, their infants, and their children up to 5 years of age who are determined to be at nutritional risk by a health care professional.

Who is eligible for WIC?

  • AWIC Prescreening Tool is available on their website .
  • Eligible recipients must be:
  • a member of the population that WIC serves*; and
  • be at nutritional risk **; and
  • have a gross income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.
  • Individuals must live in the state where they apply to receive WIC benefits.
  • A person or certain family members who participate in other benefit programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF automatically meet the income eligibility requirement.

*Population served by WIC:

  • Women

    • Pregnant (during pregnancy and up to 6 weeks after the birth of an infant or the end of the pregnancy
    • Postpartum (up to six months after the birth of the infant or the end of the pregnancy)
    • Breastfeeding (up to the infant's first birthday)
  • Infants (up to the infant's first birthday) and children (up to the child's fifth birthday)

** "At nutritional risk" means that you have medically-based risks such as anemia (low blood levels), underweight, or history of poor pregnancy outcome or dietary-based risks such as a poor diet. Nutritional risk is determined by a health professional such as a physician, nutritionist, or nurse, and is based on Federal guidelines. This health screening is free to program applicants.

What can be purchased with WIC benefits?

  • Infant cereal, baby foods, iron-fortified adult cereal
  • Fruits and vegetables, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice
  • Eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Soy-based beverages, tofu, peanut butter, dried and canned beans or peas, canned fish
  • Whole wheat bread and other whole-grain options.
  • For infants of women who do not fully breastfeed, WIC provides iron-fortified infant formula.

What other benefits are offered by WIC?

  • WIC participants receive other benefits including screening, nutrition and breastfeeding counseling, immunization screenings and referrals, substance abuse referral and more.
  • To find out more about these benefits see the WIC Benefits and Services through the USDA.
  • A major goal of the WIC program is to encourage mothers to breastfeed. WIC mothers get educational support and counseling on breastfeeding from trained WIC staff throughout the prenatal and postpartum period, including:
    • Guidance, counseling, and breastfeeding educational materials
    • A greater quantity and variety of foods
    • Longer participation in the program
    • Breastfeeding aids such as breast pumps, breast shells, etc.

To find out more about breastfeeding resources, see the Breastfeeding Priority WIC Program through the USDA website .

How are WIC benefits disbursed?

  • WIC benefits are distributed as specially-designed checks or vouchers which can be used only to purchase authorized foods.

    • All states have been mandated to convert to electronic benefit transfer (EBTs) by October 1, 2020.
  • In some states, food is distributed through centralized warehouses or delivered to the family’s home.
  • The WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) provides coupons to WIC participants to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers' markets. Contact your FMNP state agency here .

Can individuals receive both WIC and SNAP?

Yes. Families may receive both WIC and assistance from other programs like SNAP.

How to Apply for WIC

Does everyone who qualifies for WIC receive benefits?

Not necessarily. In some states, there are more families eligible for WIC than the program can serve. If this is the case in a state, WIC vacancies are filled in order of priority as follows:

  • Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants determined to be at nutritional risk because of serious medical problems.
  • Infants up to 6 months of age whose mothers participated in WIC or could have participated and had serious medical problems.
  • Children (up to age 5) at nutritional risk because of serious medical problems.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women and infants at nutritional risk because of dietary problems (like poor diet).
  • Children (up to age 5) at nutritional risk because of dietary problems.
  • Non-breastfeeding, postpartum women with any nutritional risk.
  • Individuals at nutritional risk only because they are experiencing homelessness or migrants, and current participants who without WIC foods could continue to have medical and/or dietary problems.