Can you collect Social Security and qualify for food stamps?

PICKEL / Getty Images/iStockphoto

PICKEL / Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), more than 70 million Americans receive Social Security, Supplemental Income (SSI), or both. The vast majority are people age 65 and older who only receive Social Security benefits.

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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest anti-hunger initiative. Formerly known as food stamps, the program supports nearly 42 million beneficiaries who depend on SNAP to purchase groceries and other foods.

Both programs help tens of millions of people avoid poverty and food insecurity, but are the two mutually exclusive? Can Social Security recipients also receive food stamps?

Despite a lot of misinformation and an unfortunate number of eligible people who don’t, the answer is yes — food stamps can go to seniors and others on Social Security.

SNAP and Social Security

Older Americans can not only receive SNAP benefits while collecting Social Security, but there are special rules for people 60 and older that make it easier to qualify for food stamps. For example, a typical household can have up to $2,500 in countable resources — things like cash or money in the bank — and still qualify for SNAP.

However, if a household includes a disabled person or a senior, the countable resource limit is increased to $3,750.

SNAP Treats Social Security Like Any Other Income

The USDA uses income limits based on household size to determine eligibility for SNAP. Most applicants must meet the limits for both gross income — a household’s total income before deductions — and net income, which is gross income minus deductions.

  • The limit of gross monthly income is 130% of poverty: Between $1,396 for a household of one and $4,839 for a household of eight, plus $492 for each additional member.

  • The limit of the net monthly income is 100% poverty: Between $1,074 for a household of one and $3,722 for a household of eight, plus $379 for each additional member.

In determining SNAP eligibility, the USDA counts income from all sources, including earned income before payroll taxes and unearned income such as child support, cash assistance, and Social Security.

Therefore, you can collect Social Security and SNAP benefits at the same time, provided the payment of the former doesn’t push you over the income limits of the latter.

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What about SSI?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a branch of Social Security that serves the most vulnerable individuals who are both disabled and part of a low-income household. To qualify, you must earn $1,350 a month or less – $2,260 for the blind.

Again, receiving SSI doesn’t disqualify you — but your benefits count as income when applying for SNAP. You are free to collect food stamps as long as your SSI distributions don’t put you above the USDA’s SNAP income limits.

The SSA’s site explicitly states, “If you receive SSI, you may qualify for SNAP Food Buying Assistance,” and that the SSA provides SNAP applications at local offices and can even help eligible households to fill this in. Still, the SSA states, “Many people who may be eligible for SSI benefits don’t know how receiving SSI affects their benefits or payments from other government and state programs.”

SNAP is one of those programs.

Millions of Eligible Seniors Don’t Receive SNAP Benefits

According to a 2021 National Council on Aging (NCOA) report, three out of five older adults eligible for SNAP — about five million people — are missing out on their rightful benefits.

It’s unclear whether a certain percentage of those five million people never apply for SNAP because they assume they’re ineligible while collecting Social Security, but the statistics are striking. Less than half of people over 60 don’t receive SNAP benefits even though they qualify, or receive less than they could receive.

The myth of dual eligibility isn’t the only piece of misinformation stopping people from applying. According to NCOA, many people believe older Americans can receive as little as $16 a month in food stamps, but that’s just the minimum for an eligible senior — the average benefit is over $100.

Finally, only a small percentage of seniors take advantage of the medical expense deduction, which allows older adults who spend more than $35 a month on out-of-pocket medical expenses to deduct that expense from their gross income when applying for SNAP.

So yes, you can collect Social Security and SNAP at the same time — and if you qualify, you absolutely should.

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This article originally appeared on Can You Collect Social Security and Qualify for Food Stamps?

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