Last updated: October 2011
Illinois' food stamps program is known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program).SNAP gives low-income people a debit card, called a LINK card, to buy food. The Common Questions, Forms/Letters, Instructions, Related Articles, and Find Legal Help sections will help you: Figure out if you can receive SNAP benefits and how much you can receiveFill out the necessary forms to apply for SNAP benefitsFile these forms with the Illinois Department of Human Services by mail or onlineFind a legal aid organization to help youClick on words that appear like 'this' to learn what these words mean.What is a LINK Card? When you are approved for SNAP benefits, you receive a LINK card (which looks like a credit card). On a certain day each month, your SNAP benefits are automatically put on the card. The head of household can then use the card at a grocery store 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 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. What can I buy with SNAP benefits? The SNAP allowance can be used to:Buy most food that you find at a grocery storeBuy food at a farmer's marketPay for meals provided by the Meals-on-Wheels programYou cannot use SNAP benefits to buy:Prepared foods from a grocery storeAlcoholTobaccoSoapPaper productsPet foodOther nonfood itemsIf you break these rules, there are strict penalties (see "Intentional Program Violation"). To learn more about where you can use SNAP benefits to pay for food and what you can buy with SNAP benefits, see the information under "Related Articles."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 an intentional program violation on your recordYou are living in a hospital, jail, or other place where meals are providedYou are on strikeYou were convicted of a drug felony on or after August 22, 1996 You do not meet asset requirementsYou are an undocumented immigrantIf you are a legal immigrant you might qualify for benefits. To learn more, see the information on "Immigrant Eligibility for SNAP benefits" under "Related Articles."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. How can I apply for SNAP benefits? You can get an application at Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) Online Application System.After you file the form online, a letter scheduling an interview will be mailed to you. Most interviews are done in person, but can be done by telephone if you are homebound. At your interview, or soon after, you will need to provide DHS with written information about your income, assets, and expenses by giving them copies of pay check stubs, utility bills, rent receipts, and so on. You can also get an application at your local Department of Human Services (DHS) office. To find a DHS office near you, use the DHS Office Locator. If you get an application at your local DHS office, you do not have to fill out the application at the office; you can take it home.Once you fill out and sign the application you can: - Mail the application to the DHS office - Fax the application to the DHS office - Take the application back to the DHS officeAfter they get your application, the DHS will interview you. Most interviews are done in person, but can be done by telephone if you are homebound. At your interview, or soon after, you will need to provide DHS with written information about your income, assets, and expenses by giving them copies of pay check stubs, utility bills, rent receipts, and so on. Do I have to go to a specific DHS office? You have the right to go to any DHS office you choose. 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 determines 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. A good example of this is a traditional family. Some Qualifying Members may be considered two separate SNAP units even though their food is bought and made with the other people they live with. Check with your local DHS office if you think this could apply to you. 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. 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 an answer sooner. You can apply for "expedited" SNAP benefits. Expedited SNAP benefits are a way to get food benefits faster. For more information, see "How Can I Get Food Stamps Faster" under "Related Articles." 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 "Appealing TANF, Food Stamps, or Medicaid Decisions" under "Related Articles."How much money can I make and still get SNAP benefits? The amount of money you can make and still get 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 total income to determine if you are entitled to SNAP. Total, or 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. However, if anyone else in your household is a Qualifying Member, then your gross income does not matter. You can view the monthly income allowance tables here on DHS online.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:CarsPropertyReal estate“Liquid assets” are:CashMoney in a checking accountMoney in a savings accountUnder 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 $2,000;Your household has a Qualifying Member and your total income is more than 200% of the poverty level. 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, and one car. 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 under the control of 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 apartments 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.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.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 pay for medicines, have other medical expenses, or are having your Social Security benefits reduced to pay for Medicare.Can I get SNAP benefits if I'm not working? Yes. There is no general work requirement until at least September 30, 2012. However, some single, healthy adults will be referred to Earnfare program and could lose their benefits if they do not participate. 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 the date of the change. For example, you must report: Changes (up or down) in your income of more than $100 a month, or unearned income of $50 a month. Some SNAP Units are placed into EZ reporting and only need to report a change if their income goes above 130% of the Federal Poverty Level. You do not have to report changes in your cash benefits paid by DHS;People who move in or out of the SNAP Unit, including new babies. List names, birthdates, Social Security Numbers, and income;Increases in your cash on hand, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, money in savings, etc.;If you move you must provide your new address, telephone number and changes in rent or mortgage and utility costs;If a household member buys, trades, sells, or is given a licensed vehicle (car, truck, boat, motorcycle, etc.);If you receive a deduction for child support payments, you must report when the child support order changes or ends.To report changes in your SNAP unit, see "SNAP Program Change Report Form."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. Even worse, you could be charged with an Intentional Program Violation. For more information, see "What Happens if I Have a SNAP Overpayment" under "Related Articles." 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 if you might be able to get SNAP benefits and how much you might get. 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 April 1, 2009: Number of People in Household Maximum Monthly Food Stamp Amount 1 person $200 2 people $367 3 people $526 4 people $668 5 people $793 6 people $952 7 people $1,052 8 people $1,202 9 people $1,352 10 people $1,502Add $150 for each additional member. What should I do if I am broke and I need SNAP benefits now in order to eat? You should apply for "expedited" SNAP benefits. Expedited means that the person reviewing the application will look at it sooner than usual. 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 in the bank and your monthly income is less than $150;You have less than $100 in the bank and you are 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 "How Can I Get SNAP Benefits Faster" under "Related Articles."Fill Out a SNAP Application Fill out the application in the "Forms/Letters" section or pick one up at your local DHS office. The form is available in English and in Spanish;To locate a DHS office near you, use the Department of Human Services Office LocatorYou may choose whatever office you want to have your case filedSubmit Your Application to the Department of Human Services After completing and signing the application, you must mail, fax or hand-deliver it back to the DHS Office;To locate a DHS office near you, use the Department of Human Services Office Locator Go to Your DHS Interview Once you submit your application, you will be interviewed by the DHS;You will need to give DHS proof of your household's income and expenses. This may include pay stubs, utility bills, rent receipts, etc.Wait 30 Days to Get a Decision from DHS Once your application is processed, you will get a written decision telling you if you have been approved for food stamps and if so, what amount you will receive.Get Your LINK Card Once you are approved for food stamps, your household will get a LINK card which has the food stamps on it;Every month food stamps will be electronically placed on the card.Report to DHS You may need to report certain things to DHS after you start getting your food stamps.You will need to report any change that could impact your SNAP eligibility or the amount of SNAP you receive, within 10 days of the change.
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