Do the income eligibility requirements for SNAP vary by state?
February 1, 2016 10:49 AM   Subscribe

My understanding is that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has income eligibility requirements that are state by the federal government. There are also asset requirements, such as whether a primary vehicle will be counted, but states can adopt more generous requirements as to whether that will be counted. But when it comes to income, what I continually find is that the income eligibility requirement is fixed by the federal government, except for Hawaii and Alaska, to be 130% of the federal poverty line.

That, though, does not comport with these two sources. First, there's this site. If you click on most of the states (e.g., Alabama), you'll find the number of $15,301 for households of 1. But not all the states. For instance, Maine and Vermont both list $21,775 for households of one. As does Colorado, and maybe a few more. What is so special about this $21,775 number and why do some states have that as their income eligibility cut off?

The second source is from this working paper. On page 8, they write:

"Oregon increased the income eligibility limit to 185 percent of the federal poverty line, waived asset reporting for vehicles and bank accounts, implemented simplified reporting, increased its outreach efforts, and established a ‘no wrong door’ policy − all efforts aimed to expand the SNAP participation rate."

Yet, when I check out Oregon on, I find that they are using the $15,301 threshold for households of one.

What explains this variation? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. This is a new area for me, and SNAP is complex. I feel like I have to learn everything first to understand anything, so I keep getting stuck on basic things like this.
posted by scunning to Law & Government (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The USDA offers states options as to how they can implement SNAP, and this includes eligibility requirements. Here is the most recent State Options report I could find: heads up, it is a PDF. Basically, states have a floor of eligibility, and they may choose to raise the income cap for benefits, not count resources like cars and child support as assets/income, or not. The options reports come out quite frequently and describe how the USDA interprets the existing laws for SNAP and thus judges states' compliance.

My guess is that whether a state chooses to change this or not is related to both the state budget (what they have via the feds and the Farm Bill's allocation for SNAP and other programs vs. what they have as a state vs. what they need) and the political climate (if a politician campaigns on cutting "moochers" out of the budget, they may choose to make the income restrictions for SNAP tighter, for example.)

Why is the Oregon limit at $15,301 on the website now after the paper reports that Oregon raised the limit? The working paper is looking at the period between 2003 and 2010. The situation has changed since then. Off the top of my head, the government bailout in 08-09 included a bump up of allocations via the Farm Bill to food stamps which was later clawed back and then some, and a quick search is showing that the 2014 Farm Bill cut SNAP significantly (HuffPo is on the beat and there is a lot of other coverage as well), and states tweak SNAP frequently (Oregon appears to be in the news as of a few days ago for adding a time limit to SNAP recipients who are able-bodied adults with no dependents, making the restrictions on income even tighter.)

$21,775 is 185% of the FPL, so my guess is that those states that currently have that as the limit took into account the local economy vs. their budget vs. the approved options from the USDA and chose to raise the income cap for the time being. Some states take an expensive housing market into account and account for income differently if, for example, you're in subsidized housing and are still spending more than 50% of your income on rent-- that makes a difference in New York in how they count your income. Local high unemployment or a recent disaster plunging people into poverty may also result in people lobbying the state to increase benefits or the state deciding to do something about it. You would want to look into local politics and local legislation about SNAP implementation on a state or locality level to see why that actually came about-- you could call around to food banks, charities, or activists in that state, and someone involved at that level would likely be happy to talk about it.

And as always, benefits offices across the US are known to be really hard to deal with and getting benefits is very tricky because it is very complex and also politically polarized and stigmatized, so the people working there don't really understand it or will have very strong opinions, and are also severely overworked and underfunded. So take any information on a website with a grain of salt, even a government website unless you're 100% certain that it is updated frequently.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:19 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I love you blnkfrnk. Thank you!
posted by scunning at 4:41 PM on February 1, 2016

You're very welcome! Thanks for asking such an interesting question.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2016

FYI, the new Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) time limit is due to a change in federal law. If I recall correctly, states received waivers allowing them to suspend the work requirement for ABAWD's during the Great Recession which are just now expiring. Here in Maryland, the waivers are expiring in some counties, but not in others (I think having a high unemployment rate is one factor that might allow you to keep your waiver). To help the transition, states can now use some of their SNAP dollars for job training, via the SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP E&T) program.

States also can add their own money to SNAP. The minimum SNAP benefit in the District of Columbia is $30 (I think) because they have chosen to put DC money in. Here in Maryland, the minimum is just $16.
posted by postel's law at 4:34 AM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

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