You can use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to buy food. The money comes from the federal government but is administered in Illinois by the Illinois Department of Human Services. Every month, your SNAP benefits are automatically put on the card. The head of household can then use the LINK card like a debit card or ATM card to buy food at approved locations. There are different rules if there is an elderly or disabled member of your household. See details here.
You can use your SNAP benefits to buy (see a list of eligible food items):
- Most food or food products
- Seeds and plants to grow in home gardens to produce food
- Food at a farmer's markets
- Meals provided by the Meals-on-Wheels program
You cannot use your SNAP benefits to buy (if you break these rules, there are strict penalties):
- Prepared or ready to eat foods from a grocery store
- Vitamins or medicines
- Pet food
- Any non-food items (except seeds and plants), such as paper products and soap
Applying for benefits
After you apply for SNAP benefits the Department of Human Services (DHS) has up to 30 days to process your application. You will get a letter telling you if DHS has approved or denied your application.
If you are approved, the letter will tell you the total money you will receive each month. If you need your benefits sooner than 30 days, use this link to apply for emergency or expedited SNAP benefits.
If you are denied, you have the right to appeal the decision.
Using a LINK card
If you are approved for SNAP benefits, you are mailed a LINK card. If you receive cash benefits as well as SNAP benefits, your cash benefits will also be placed on the LINK card. Note: It is illegal 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.
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, Department of Human Services (DHS) will not replace your 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 can be stolen. If that happens, the benefits will not be replaced by DHS.
You can call (800) 678-LINK or go to 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
- Request a replacement card