by David Thompson
You can apply online for food stamps in some states, under the program now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Since food stamps applications vary according to state, you can only apply online as of 2010 if you're a resident of Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, or some counties of California, Indiana, New York and Texas.
However, additional counties and states are being added, so it's worth checking on the Food and Nutrition Service website to see if you can currently apply for food stamps online where you live. If not, the website will give information on how to contact your local office.
If you live in an area where you can apply online, first see if you're eligible for food stamps by using the SNAP pre-screening eligibility tool. Your eligibility will depend on various factors, including the state you live in, your expenses and your income.
If you're eligible to apply, go to the application page, click on your state and follow the instructions. Each state's application is slightly different, but when you get to the state page, look for a place to click labeled "apply for benefits" or "application" or "begin."
When you get to the application, fill in the information requested. After applying online, you may receive a letter with further instructions for finishing your application and receiving your food stamps. Once you're approved, you'll receive a card which will have the value of your food stamps added each month, similar to a debit card, that's accepted by most grocery stores.
SNAP is moving toward more online activities. This page lists the states where you can check the balance of your EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card online.
After you've initially been approved for benefits, the money should be available on your EBT card within 30 days after you submitted your application. In some cases, if your income is very low, you may qualify for expedited benefits, and in that case, the benefits should be available in your account within seven days.
After the first time you receive your benefits, they will appear automatically on your card once a month, according to the schedule established for the state where you live. To see the schedule, click on your state on this map.
The benefits can be used to buy food such as meat, fruits and vegetables, bread, cereal, milk and other dairy products, as well as seeds or plants that produce food for a home garden. They can't be used for alcohol, tobacco, medicine, pet food or non-food items. The food doesn't necessarily have to be nutritious, so junk food and even birthday cakes are allowed. See this page for more information on what's eligible.