If you have a felony conviction and are struggling financially, getting SNAP food stamps can be a huge help!
Now, you may be wondering whether a felon can get food stamps? And the answer is actually: in many cases YES YOU CAN!
However, because most people with a criminal conviction automatically assume that SNAP food benefits are not for them, they never bother to find out the actual criteria for eligibility.
As a result, they miss the opportunity to take advantage of a great government support for people who are struggling to pay rent and to put food on their table.
Lets look at what it takes for a felon to be eligible for the SNAP food program, and what you need to do to apply.
What is SNAP food assistance?
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is a federally funded program that helps millions of low income Americans with nutrition assistance.
Most people call this form of assistance “food stamps”, but this is not an official name. Basically, “SNAP” and “food stamps” means the same thing.
Depending on your household size and monthly income, the government calculates the amount of monthly benefits you can get. The funds are held in a special account and you get a SNAP EBT card. This is sort of like a bank card, that you can use in most grocery stores to buy food. Every month, your allotted amount of benefits is renewed.
Here is a chart with the household size and income eligibility criteria for 2019.
There are also determinations for individuals and families whose income is at 165% and 100% of the federal poverty level, which you can view here.
Am I eligible for food stamps if I have a felony?
Yes, in most states, an individual with a felony conviction is eligible for food stamps. The criteria for eligibility are primarily income based, as discussed above. So if you have a felony, but are not able to find work and have a very low income, you would be eligible for SNAP Assistance.
However, there is a big restriction in the benefits that you need to be aware of. SNAP is designed as an emergency measure to prevent hunger in America. It is not meant to be exploited and misused by people are able to find a job and work, but simply choose not to, and expect the government to support them.
This why there is a restriction in the program for able bodied adults ages 18-49, who are without depends and don’t have a disability
Now, this has nothing to do directly with having a felony. But many felons would fall into this category of adults who are able bodied and don’t have dependents or a disability.
If this is your case, you should know that your SNAP food assistance would only be available for 3 months in 3 years, unless you meet special work requirements.
To get food stamps for more than 3 months, you must present evidence that you are:
– working at least 80 hours a month
– participating in an education or work training program at least 80 hours a month
– complying with a workfare program
Which states ban felons from food stamps?
Back in the 1996, some states have chosen to restrict food stamps to felons with drug convictions. However, over the years, many of the states have lifted the ban or have at least loosened their restrictions.
Still, today, as of February 2020, 4 states and Guam still ban felons with drug related convictions from getting SNAP:
West Virginia – lifetime ban. In this state, children of these felons are allowed to receive SNAP. South Carolina – lifetime ban Mississippi – lifetime ban Indiana – currently has a ban. However, recently changed its laws to lift the ban effective in 2020. Guam – lifetime ban
Additionally, 22 states have specific restrictions. For example, some require drug testing as part of the eligibility process. The states with a modified ban are:
Note, the bans and restrictions apply ONLY to drug offenses. If you have any other type of felony, and qualify financially, you can get SNAP.
How much food stamps can I get?
Depending on your income, the maximum monthly amount of food stamps 1 person can get is $192, while the minimum is $15.
A family of 2 can get up to $353 a month, and a family of 3 can get up to $505 a month.
Keep in mind that these numbers are different for people who live in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Virgin Islands. They actually get more money per month. Once you apply for SNAP, and are found eligible, you will find out exactly how much money you can get.
Can an EBT card be used to get cash?
No! You can only use the EBT card to buy food at designated grocery stores and super markets.
In fact, there are also some limits on the types of food you can buy, depending on the state. For example, in some places you would not be allowed to use the EBT card to pay for hot/prepared foods, or the DELI section. You are also not allowed to buy cigarettes, or alcohol. None food items, such as pet food, and household supplies also cannot be purchased using food stamps.
So what can you buy with food stamps?
Essential foods, such as: cereal, bread, milk, cheese, meat, chicken, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.
Also, another huge benefit is that your kids who go to school will be eligible for free meals in school. You will just need to fill out a school application and let them know that you are getting SNAP assistance.
Knowing that your children are not starving during the day and you don’t have to worry about getting them lunch can take a huge burden off your shoulders.
How to apply for SNAP benefits?
If you or someone you know are still incarcerated, you may be able to apply for SNAP while still in prison, right before getting released. Many states, such as New York, Ohio, and South Dakota process SNAP applications for felons, while they are still in prison. If found eligible, felons can come out with this safety net already in place.
In case you are already out, and are in need of food assistance, you can quickly check your eligibility using this online PRE-screening eligibility tool. Note, this is not the actual application!!!
The good news is that you DON’T need a permanent address to apply for food stamps. You can set it up so that all correspondence and the EBT card arrives to a local SNAP office, and pick it up there. Alternatively, you can provide the address of a family member or friend, and receive correspondence there.
Can I apply without a state ID?
Yes, you don’t need a state ID to apply for SNAP. Most felons don’t know this and as a result don’t take advantage of this tremendous financial assistance. You can present any type of ID that reasonably identifies you, such as: a medical card, birth certificate, work ID, school ID, wage stubs that clearly state your name.
If you don’t have any of the alternative forms of ID, there is still another option. You can ask a collateral contact to verify your identity. This can be a parole officer, landlord, or a representative from a social services agency who knows you personally.
As you can see, the federal government makes it possible for felons to apply for SNAP, so take advantage of this great opportunity.
How long do I wait until I get SNAP?
All states are required to process the applications within a 30 day period. In emergency situations, which can be indicated on the application, states are required to turn it around in 7 days or less.
This can still seem like eternity if you have no food for yourself or your family. In this case, consider turning for help to local food banks.
About The Author
Joe is the founder of HireFelons.org. Having had friends and co-workers who have a felony conviction, Joe Hunter decided to use his expert knowledge in starting a successful business to launch HireFelons.org and teach as many former felons as possible how to earn a decent income, when finding a traditional job is simply not an option.