Common Questions: Getting Food Stamps (SNAP) in Illinois

Common Questions: Getting Food Stamps (SNAP) in Illinois

Last updated: September 2015

1. What is a LINK Card?

When you are approved for SNAP benefits, you are mailed a LINK card (which looks like a credit card). Each month, your SNAP benefits are automatically put on the card. The head of household can then use the card at approved locations to buy food. The LINK card works just like a credit card or ATM card.

If you receive cash benefits as well as SNAP benefits, your cash benefits will also be placed on the LINK card.

When you get a LINK card you should choose a personal identification number (PIN). The PIN is required when you use the card. You should never let anyone else know your PIN number. If you give your PIN to someone else and they use your benefits, DHS will not replace you benefits.

If your card is lost or stolen, your benefits cannot be used unless the thief also knows your PIN number. You should never write your PIN number on your card, or on the sleeve that is given to you to keep your card from getting damaged. If it is written on the card, your food benefits (and your cash if you receive it) can easily be stolen. If that happens, the benefits will not be replaced by IDHS.

You can call (1-800-678-LINK) or the Manage My Illinois Link Account website to check your benefits balance, select a PIN, see your card use history, report a lost, stolen, or damaged Link card, and request a replacement card by mail.

2. What can I buy with SNAP benefits?

The SNAP allowance can be used to:

  • Buy most food or food products
  • Buy seeds and plants to grow in home gardens to produce food
  • Buy food at a farmer's market
  • Pay for meals provided by the Meals-on-Wheels program

You cannot use SNAP benefits to buy:

  • Prepared or ready to eat foods from a grocery store
  • Vitamins or medicines
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Pet food
  • Any non food items (except seeds and plants) such as paper products and soap

If you break these rules, there are strict penalties. See the "Related Articles" tab for further information. Additionally, it is not legal to sell your LINK card or allow others to use your card in return for cash. Doing this can cause you to lose your SNAP benefits and potentially face criminal charges.

To learn more about where you can use SNAP benefits to pay for food, see SNAP Retailer Locator and Farmer’s Markets that Accept Illinois Link card. To see what you can buy with SNAP benefits, see Eligible Food Items.

3. Who can get SNAP benefits?

Anyone who meets the income requirements can get SNAP benefits, but there are some exceptions. You cannot get SNAP benefits if:

  • You have been temporarily or permanently disqualified from receiving benefits because of an intentional program violation You are living in a hospital, jail, or other place where meals are provided
  • You are on strike and were not eligible on the day before the strike began
  • In the last ten years you were convicted of making a false statement or representation about your identify or residence and received more than one SNAP issuance as a result
  • You are a fugitive felon, are in current violation of your probation or parole, or you have escaped from a correctional facility
  • You do not meet asset requirements
  • You are an undocumented immigrant
  • You are not a resident of Illinois or are not living in Illinois

If you are a legal immigrant you might qualify for benefits. To learn more, see the information under the "Related Articles" tab.

4. How can I figure out if I can get SNAP benefits?

Go to the Illinois Department of Human Services' SNAP calculator to see if you might be eligible for SNAP benefits and to get an idea of the amount of benefits you might receive.

5. How can I apply for SNAP benefits?

You can get an application at your local Illinois Department of Human Services office or on the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) Online Application System. To find a DHS office near you, use the DHS Office Locator. You can fill out and sign the application in the office or at home. You may then mail, fax, or personally deliver the application to the DHS office.

  • Once your application is received, you will be asked to go to the office for an interview. Most interviews are done in person, but can be done by telephone if you are unable to leave your home.
  • At your interview, or soon after, you will need to provide DHS with documentation of your identity, residence, income, assets, and expenses. Depending on your circumstances, additional documentation may be required.

6. Do I have to go to a specific DHS office?

You have the right to go to any DHS office you choose. To find a DHS office near you, use the DHS Office Locator.

7. What is a "SNAP unit"?

A SNAP unit is the group of people who need to be provided with money to buy food. The size of the SNAP unit helps DHS determine how much money you should get. The unit can include one or more people. A SNAP unit can be:

  • A person of any age who lives alone
  • A person who lives with others, but buys and makes his or her own food
  • A group of people who live together and buy and make their food together

Some Qualifying Members may be considered two separate SNAP units even though they purchase and make their food with the people they live with. Check with your local DHS office if you think this could apply to you.

8. What is a "Qualifying Member"?

You are a Qualifying Member for the SNAP program if you:

  • Are 60 years old or over; or,
  • Receive SSI, SSDI, Veteran's Benefits, or some other state and or federal disability payments

Qualifying Members are eligible for special benefits when calculating their eligibility and benefit amounts.

9. When will I know if I am approved for SNAP benefits?

DHS has up to 30 days to process your application. You will get a letter telling you if you have or have not been approved to receive SNAP money. If you are approved, you will be told the amount of monthly SNAP allowance you will receive.

In some cases, you may need to get SNAP benefits sooner. You can apply for "expedited" SNAP benefits.

For more information, see the "Related Articles" tab.

10. What can I do if I am denied SNAP benefits or do not think I am getting the correct amount?

If you are denied benefits or you do not think you are getting the right amount of money, you have 90 days to file an appeal. You may also appeal if there is a delay processing your SNAP benefit or application.

For more information see the "Related Articles" tab.

11. How much money can I make and still get SNAP benefits?

The amount of money you can make and still qualify for SNAP benefits depends on the size of your SNAP Unit, and whether anyone in your household is a Qualifying Member.

Illinois Department of Human Services uses your gross income to determine if you are entitled to SNAP. Gross income is the amount of money you make from all sources before taxes are taken out of your pay. If you pay any child support, you can deduct (subtract) that from your gross income.

  • For example, if you work 20 hours per week earning $8.00 per hour and you are the only person in your household working, then the gross income of your household is $160.00 per week

You can view the monthly income allowance tables here on DHS online.

12. Does the SNAP program consider anything other than my income?

The SNAP program will look at your assets as well as your income. Assets are the "things" that you have. The SNAP program will look at two kinds of assets.

One type of assets the SNAP program will look at is “non-liquid assets.” This means that these assets would have to be sold to receive the money they are worth. Some common non-liquid assets are:

  • Cars
  • Property
  • Real estate

“Liquid assets” are:

  • Cash
  • Money in a checking or savings account
  • Stocks and bonds

Under the requirements for SNAP, you do not need to meet any asset limits unless one of the following is true:

  • Someone in your unit is guilty of an Intentional Program Violation (IPV) or has a work provision sanction. To be considered for SNAP benefits in these cases, the asset limit is $2,250
  • Your household has a Qualifying Member and your total income is more than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. To be considered for SNAP benefits in these cases, the asset limit is $3,250

Note: Some assets do not count at all toward the asset limit. These are called "exempt" assets. Common examples of exempt assets are the home that you live in, clothing, household furnishings, one car, and tax preferred pension plans, retirement accounts, and educational accounts.

13. Who do I have to include in my SNAP Unit or household?

You must include:

  • Your spouse that lives with you
  • Anyone under age 18 who is financially or non-financially dependent on an adult SNAP Unit member, even if that adult is not his or her parent. You must count this person under age 18 even if he or she and the adult eat separately
  • Any parent and their child under age 22. It is possible to live in the same house and be considered a separate SNAP Unit from your child, but only if you are living in totally separate living quarters with no shared living space. For example, if the child is living in a completely separate apartment in the basement of the parents’ home. The apartment must have its own kitchen, bathroom, etc. In some situations, college student household members may be excluded from the SNAP Unit
14. Can I get more SNAP benefits for my SNAP unit?

Sometimes you can increase the amount of SNAP money available to your SNAP Unit by making some simple changes such as:

  • If you live with others and they buy and prepare their food separately, they are usually considered a separate SNAP Unit. If you are treated as separate SNAP Units, you will get more SNAP benefits than if everyone is combined into one unit
  • If you or your spouse are age 60 or older and cannot buy and prepare food due to a serious disability and any other people you live with have income which is below certain limits set by the Illinois Department of Human Services, you can be considered separate SNAP Units
15. What else should I think about when applying for SNAP benefits?
  • You may choose to include any foster children in your SNAP case;
  • You may qualify for more SNAP benefits if you pay for childcare while you work or attend an employment training program
  • If you are disabled or elderly, you may qualify for more SNAP benefits if you have out of pocket medical expenses or are having your Social Security benefits reduced to pay for Medicare
16. Can I get SNAP benefits if I'm not working?

Yes. There is no general work requirement until at least December 31, 2015. But, some people must do SNAP Employment and Training (this includes Cook County). And some non custodial parents may be court ordered to participate in the Earnfare program. You could lose your benefits if you are required to participate in a program and you do not.

17. Once I start getting SNAP benefits, do I need to report anything to DHS?

You need to report any change that could affect your SNAP eligibility or the amount of SNAP that you receive within 10 days of learning of the change. For income related changes, the date the first payment is received is considered the date you learned of the change.

For example, you must report:

  • If you get, change, or lose a job
  • Changes (up or down) in your earned income of more than $100 a month, or unearned income of more than $50 a month. Some SNAP Units are placed into EZ reporting and only need to report a change if their income goes above gross monthly income standards for the unit size. You do not have to report changes in your cash benefits paid by DHS
  • Changes in unit size, including new babies
  • If your cash on hand, money in checking and savings accounts, stocks, and bonds exceeds a total of $2000
  • Changes in address and new shelter costs (including rent or mortgage and utilities)
  • If a household member buys, trades, sells, or is given a licensed vehicle (such as a car, truck, boat, or motorcycle)
  • If you receive a deduction for child support payments, you must report when the child support order changes or ends

You may report changes in person or by mail. To report changes in your SNAP unit, see "SNAP Program Change Report Form." Some changes may also be reported by phone.

18. What happens if I do not report a change?

If you do not report a change that would have reduced or ended your participation in the SNAP program, you could be charged with an overpayment. You could also be charged with an Intentional Program Violation.

For more information, see the "Related Articles" tab.

19. If I am approved for SNAP benefits, how much will I get?

The amount of SNAP benefits that you will get depends on the number of people in your SNAP Unit, your income, and your expenses. You can get a general idea of what your SNAP level might be by completing the SNAP calculator. Please note this is simply a tool for you to use to figure out what SNAP benefit amount, if any, that you might qualify for. It is not an application for SNAP benefits.

The chart below shows the highest amount of money your SNAP Unit can receive each month as of October 1, 2014:

Number of People in Household Maximum Monthly Food Stamp Amount

1 person $194

2 people $357

3 people $511

4 people $649

5 people $771

6 people $925

7 people $1,022

8 people $1,169

9 people $1,315

10 people $1,461

Add $146 for each additional member.

20. What should I do if I am broke and I need SNAP benefits now in order to eat?

You should apply for "expedited/emergency" SNAP benefits. An expedited application will be reviewed faster and if you are granted benefits you will receive them sooner. If you are eligible for SNAP under this program, the benefits will be available to you no later than five calendar days after you apply for the benefits. A person can get expedited SNAP benefits in one of three ways:

  • Your monthly income and any assets are less than your monthly rent or mortgage payment and utility bills
  • You have less than $100 on hand and in the bank and your gross monthly income is less than $150
  • You have less than $100 on hand and in the bank and at least one person in your household is a migrant who is not expecting to make more than $25 in the next 10 days after you apply for SNAP benefits

For more information see the "Related Articles" tab.