How to Apply for SNAP in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, there are almost 1.8 million people who receive assistance, which is about 14% of the state population. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides eligible low-income people the ability to purchase healthy food. Those meeting eligibility requirements receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) ACCESS card for purchasing food.

If you believe you may qualify for food stamps, keep reading to learn how to apply for SNAP benefits in the state of PA.

Qualify For the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

To receive food stamp benefits your household income must be below a specific amount. You may receive deductions from your gross income for housing, child care, and medical expenses. 

In some cases, you may be found “categorically eligible” for SNAP if someone in your home is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). To meet the income requirements between October 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021, your monthly income must be at or below the following levels:

  • Household of one person—$1,383 gross or $1,064 net
  • Household of two people—$1,868 gross or $1,437 net
  • Household of three people—$2,353 gross or $1,810 net
  • Household of four people—$2,839 gross or $2,184 net
  • Household of five people—$3,324 gross or $2,557 net

The amounts continue to increase with $486 gross or $374 net being added for each additional member in the household.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed into law on March 11, 2021, extends increases in SNAP allotments from July 1, 2021, to September 30, 2021.  The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 increased the maximum allotment to 115% for the dates of January 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021.

The emergency benefits began distribution in Pennsylvania in April 2021. Anyone on SNAP will receive the emergency allotment (EA). The amount is dependent upon your household size and whether or not you were receiving the maximum benefit. Beginning in May 2021 the minimum amount of EA every household receives is $95.

Other Pennsylvania Eligibility Requirements

In addition to the federal food stamp program requirements above, you must also meet eligibility requirements specific to the state in which you reside. For the state of Pennsylvania you must have a current bank balance that meets one of the following;

  • $2,001 balance of checking and savings combined or
  • $3,001 balance of checking and savings combined when your household includes a person who is 60 or older or any person with a disability, including a child, spouse, parent, or yourself.

Pennsylvania uses annual household income prior to taxes to determine your eligibility. This begins at $16,744 for one person, a family of four is $34,450, and a family of eight is $58,058. If your home has more than eight people living in it you may add $5,902 for each additional person.

How to Apply for Snap Benefits in the State of PA

If you are unsure of whether or not you will meet the qualifications, your best option is to apply. This can be done by dropping your application into an office dropbox, submitting it online, or meeting with a person at your county assistance office

In addition to the SNAP program, your worker will be able to advise you of other services including cash assistance, medical assistance, home heating benefits, child care assistance, school meals, and family planning services.

Prior to going into the office, you will want to download an application for benefits. By filling this out in advance it will save you time and give you insight into what documentation and information are necessary.

In addition to the standard application, there is also a simple application that applies to people where everyone in the household has a disability or is over 60 years of age and does not receive an income from employment. If you meet any of these qualifications you may want to review the SNAP for Older Adults page. 

It can take up to 30 days for you to receive a determination on your application. Once you submit your application, you may check the status of your application, view benefit information, report changes, search for child care, and more using your COMPASS account.

Who Can Apply for the Food Stamp Program

The program does regulate that only the following persons may apply for benefits:

  • Head of household
  • The husband/wife of a head of household
  • Any other household member
  • An authorized representative of the family

Authorized representatives are a neighbor, relative, or friend who the person applying trusts to shop for food on their behalf using their SNAP benefits. Once you are eligible as long as you continue to meet the eligibility requirements there is no time limit on how long you can receive food assistance.

How Snap Benefits Work

Once you qualify for the federal food stamp program your benefits load onto the Pennsylvania EBT ACCESS Card. This works like a debit card, allowing you to make withdrawals at stores where you purchase food.

Qualifying purchases automatically subtract from your SNAP account. Your monthly benefit electronically loads onto the card each month.

To check how much money you have left on your EBT card keep your last receipt, which will list your remaining balance. You may also call the recipient hotline 1-888-EBT-PENN to learn your balance, or go online to look at all details regarding your EBT transactions. 

Purchasing Restrictions

You may use your food benefits to purchase any food for human consumption. You may also buy seeds and plants that produce food for your personal garden. You may not use your food benefits to purchase:

  • Non-food items except for seeds and plants
  • Pet food
  • Medicine
  • Vitamins
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Tobacco
  • Lunch counter items or foods that are to be eaten in the store

Your benefits will not cover items that are prepared, such as hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, deli sandwiches, etc.

There are some restaurants that accept SNAP from the elderly, homeless, or disabled for a low-cost meal. Your county assistance office can provide you with a list of those locations.  You may not exchange your food stamps for cash.

Junk Food, Bakery Items, Gift Baskets

While there has from time to time been information in the news about the desire to restrict SNAP recipients from purchasing certain food items that lack nutritional value, those items are still allowable. This includes junk food such as candy, snack crackers, chips, ice cream, and soft drinks.

Likewise, there is no need to disappoint your child on their birthday or other events, because you can pick up that special cake using your SNAP benefits. There may be some restrictions, and a good rule is to make sure that the value of the non-edible decorations on the cake does not exceed 50% of the purchase price.

The same value balance of food v. non-food items holds true when purchasing a gift basket. You may use your SNAP benefits for this purchase as long as the food is 50% or more of the basket’s value. This is handy if you have young children and are purchasing Easter baskets or other holiday treats.

You are also able to purchase pumpkins around Halloween, but not decorative gourds.

Where to Use SNAP Benefits

In Pennsylvania, you may use your SNAP benefits in grocery stores. With COVID-19 safe distancing rules there are five stores in Pennsylvania that accept online SNAP purchases.

SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot Program

When using the online SNAP purchasing program you may buy foods that are normally eligible under the SNAP program. It is important to realize that delivery fees, driver tips, and any other fees for this service are not payable using your SNAP benefits. Any purchases that are not within the SNAP guidelines or other fees and services will need to be paid using your own credit or debit card.

The only stores accepting SNAP online are:

  • Aldi
  • Amazon
  • Fresh Grocer
  • ShopRite
  • Walmart

Not every store provides an online SNAP purchasing program. A listing of participating locations for each retailer may be found online.

Farmers Markets

When you have SNAP benefits you may use them to purchase produce at farmers’ markets in all 50 states. The farmers market must have a special license to accept SNAP benefits, so check to make sure they have the ability to accept your EBT card.

The manner in which your EBT card is processed varies, with some markets having the individual booths process the EBT card. Other markets have a terminal where you swipe your card to receive purchase tokens.

Saving Money Elsewhere

In addition to the valuable savings of using SNAP, there are other areas that allow you to save considerably.

Many dollar stores accept EBT. Those stores must meet specific qualifications regarding the quantity and type of food they sell. Even if they do not accept SNAP dollar stores offer a tremendous savings value and are worth checking out.

Free cell phones and service is available to low-income persons through the lifeline program. The beauty of this program is you receive a free SIM card that allows you to keep and use your personal phone. You may receive one free phone per family, then pay a low-cost fee for additional phones in the family.

If you are contemplating divorce, there are ways to obtain assistance when you are low income. This may be through a pro bono attorney, mediation, or the use of legal aid services.

Vision care is important for your child to succeed in school. One out of every four children has problems with their vision that impact their performance in school.

The VSP Sight for Students has provided eyes-of-hope gift certificates to more than 860,000 children. The certificates provide the child with a free eye exam and prescription eyeglasses. 

Apply to the Federal Food Stamp Program

Now that you know how to apply for SNAP benefits in the state of PA, we encourage you to do so today. By simply going online or visiting your county assistance office you can begin the process of receiving nutritious food for yourself and your family. If you are unsure of whether you meet the qualifications, remember it costs nothing but time to complete and submit an application.

Save Money on your Wireless Phone Service

 If you qualify for the federal food stamp program, you also qualify for Lifeline service. Lifeline is a federal benefit program that makes it possible for low-income consumers to receive access to free or heavily discounted communication services. Click here to find out more and apply for this valuable benefit.