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How to Get Food Stamps or SNAP Benefits When Self-Employed

I research information from public agencies and organizations to help low-income people get benefits that make their lives a little easier.

Food stamps for the self-employed or contractors

Food stamps for the self-employed or contractors

Food Stamp Qualifications

Working for yourself is not only a test of wits and skills but often just plain survival. Many self-employed people do not earn consistent wages but earn per project. This means that if they do not have a contract or a project to work on, they do not get paid, and they can go hungry.

Luckily, the USDA food stamp program, also known as SNAP, allows the self-employed to get food benefits as well. People within 100% of the poverty guidelines can get a monthly food stamp benefit maximum of approximately $175 per person. Income guidelines are also more relaxed if you happen to have a disabled family member or a person over 60 years of age in your home.

In addition, once you get approved for food stamps, you'll generally be eligible for Medicaid national healthcare. In the past, it was very difficult for self-employed people to get these two benefits, but the U.S. and state governments have made it easier in the past few years.

Examples of Self-Employed People Who Often Apply for Food Stamps

  • Flea market/online sellers
  • Writers
  • Commissioned/affiliate salespeople
  • Lawn care professionals/seasonal workers
  • Farm stand owners/agricultural workers
  • Artists/craftspeople
  • Anyone who gets a 1099 form

Very Important: Know the Work Requirements in Your Area

The rules allowing people to get food stamps without work are expiring or have expired across most of the country. If you live in a county or state that requires you to work to get food stamps (often referred to as workfare) and you are between the ages of 18 to 49, your self-employment will generally fill this requirement if:

  • You make 30 times the hourly federal minimum wage per week (gross income you would get if you worked 30 hours a week at minimum wage) before expenses

If you do not fulfill this requirement or have a different exemption, you could be forced to apply for jobs after three months on SNAP benefits if you are an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) aged 18 to 49.

The closer you are to the poverty guidelines, the more likely you are to get the maximum monthly SNAP benefit.

The closer you are to the poverty guidelines, the more likely you are to get the maximum monthly SNAP benefit.

How to Apply for Food Stamps When Self-Employed

  1. First, check the Federal Poverty Guidelines above to see if you qualify. The closer you are to 100% poverty, the more likely you are to get the maximum monthly benefit. To find out your income as it relates to the above chart, subtract your business expenses from your total gross business income. This gives you your final income calculation, which is pre-tax.
  2. Find your state's SNAP benefit application. These days you usually do not need to go in person to apply. You can often apply online or by mail. Mail is usually better because you will need to provide a small paper trail. In most cases, people do meet with a counselor at some point during the process, but phone interviews are becoming more common in lieu of these meetings.
  3. You will fill out the food stamp application with your pre-tax/post-expense income listed on a few simple lines. At this point, you send your application back and wait for a response. If you qualify, within a few weeks, you will be asked to send in the required paperwork or make an appointment for the local office to bring it in.
  4. Required paperwork for proof of income: If you have not filed taxes yet, what you will need to do is fill out a self-employment ledger. South Dakota has its own ledger. You can use it as an example to come up with your own simple chart table in MS Word. On the self-employment ledger, you basically need to have date, income, hours worked, expense amount, and expense description columns. This is especially useful if you are in your first year of self-employment and do not have to pay your first quarterly taxes or first tax bill until the following year. If you filed taxes as a self-employed person already, your caseworker will usually use your Schedule C form from the previous year.
  5. To back the self-employment ledger up, it is ideal if you also have payment statements from the people that hired you or you sold goods to, such as an invoice or receipt. Keep whatever expense receipts you receive as well. Save these items for your own reference.
  6. After you have sent all your paperwork in, you will receive another letter within a few weeks stating whether you qualify or need more follow-up.
  7. If you receive a letter stating that you qualify, the whole process from the beginning of the application to receiving a loaded EBT (food stamp) card takes about a month. However, if you qualify, you can also get emergency food stamps in as little as seven days.
Typical proof requirements for food stamp recipients.

Typical proof requirements for food stamp recipients.

Required Proof

You must provide proof of the following besides income:

  • SSN
  • Citizenship
  • Any childcare costs
  • Utility bills
  • Rent or mortgage/property tax/home insurance costs

This information is furnished during the same round you send in your business ledgers/proof of income.

Calculating Your Food Stamp Allotment

Depending upon how your specific state SNAP office calculates self-employment income for food benefits, you will generally have two options:

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  • They will deduct 50% off of your pre-expense/pre-tax income, or
  • They will allow you to deduct all of your expenses if they exceed 50% of your pre-expense/pre-tax income.

Employment and Unemployment Technicalities

  • You normally cannot be forced to apply for unemployment compensation if you have been unemployed for more than 60 days. This saves you from having to apply for jobs where you work for someone else. It respects the aspect that you want to remain self-employed.
  • If you are pregnant, disabled on SSI, parent to a child under six years of age, or you are 60 years of age or older, you are exempt from any federal work requirements to get food stamps.

Must-Know Tips

On Your Side

  • Most states allow you to exempt your house, car, and retirement accounts from the asset calculations. You generally will not have to furnish bank account statements either when applying for food stamps only. You will, however, have to tell them how much cash you have available in checking or savings.

Where You Might Run Into Issues

  • If your income changes drastically with the seasons, you will want to explain this. You might find you will have to go through more re-certifying paperwork.

Proactive Measures

  • It is in your best interest to make sure your line totals from any invoices or payment statements match up to line items in your monthly business ledgers exactly. In other words, make it easy for the SNAP benefit processor/counselor to understand your proof of income paperwork. Don't make them search for or figure out your numbers. Since most food stamp applications come from people who work for wages in traditional jobs, the counselors are not used to receiving your type of paperwork as often.
  • Make your paperwork as succinct and in as few pieces as possible. Despite wanting to think SNAP counselors "should just do their jobs", it is much easier and beneficial for you if they can process your paperwork without having to throw their hands up in the air for having so much paperwork to deal with. Since food stamps are a matter of you and your family's survival, it behooves you to make it easy for the counselor.

Remaining Eligible for Food Stamps

  • You will usually be required to re-certify your eligibility for food stamps/SNAP at least every six months. So pay attention to your income, keep your records up, and report any major income changes to the government. If you make too much in income for any amount of months without first reporting it, you will most likely owe any overpay on the food stamps back.
How food stamps help Americans.

How food stamps help Americans.

The SNAP Program Is Important

The USDA SNAP program is greatly beneficial for American citizens. It keeps food on the table and often helps prevent starvation. As a hard-working self-employed person who pays taxes, if you qualify, you should definitely use them.

If you find out you do not qualify for food stamps, find a food bank in your area for another chance to get food at no cost to you.

Information Sources

  • United States Department of Agriculture
  • United States Department of Health & Human Services

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I write out my self-employment information on a piece of paper?

Answer: Yes, you could write out your expenses and income, but I still suggest copying the formatting of the ledger mentioned in my article.

Question: I am a dance instructor whose income is never the same. Last year, I received food stamps because I made $ 12,000. This year I made $17,000 only because I had this one job that paid me $5,000. Now I have no work and I’m nervous about turning in my taxes even though I made that money. It’s now August, and I need help with food stamps again and have no way to document monthly income. Can you help?

Answer: What you need to do is type up (according to your knowledge and any records) your gross income before expenses and the expenses in two separate columns on a ledger (as described in the article). In a third column, you will list the resulting figure of post expense income. Make one ledger for each month. If you made $5000 in one-month pre-expense and $12,000 in all other months combined pre-expense, make sure to document it.

Most social workers will average out your income over the year because they know income is not always consistent.

Your food stamps will be calculated using post-expense income, so make sure you document every business expenses, like costume wear, cab fare, makeup, etc.

This is how you would get income information for your taxes too, even if you don't get 1099 forms. The IRS has payment plans available. Many self-employed people find themselves on a payment plan for back taxes the first three or so years they are in operation.

I don't know what state you live in, but many states slash 50% of your gross income off the top rather than calculate actual expenses, in your food stamp allotment calculation.

You can leave a comment at the bottom of the article or use the ask a question feature again, telling me what state you live in and your post-expense income (net income).

Question: My income is $1,155. Do I qualify for food stamps?

Answer: If your net self-employment income after business expenses (but before taxes) is $1,155 and you live by yourself you might be able to get at least $101.00 in SNAP benefits per month. I made some assumptions to come up with this figure, such as your rent or mortgage payment is $400 and you also pay for heating/cooling of your dwelling. Depending upon the state you live in and how they calculate self-employment income, you could get more in SNAP benefits. Also, if your rent/mortgage is higher and/or you have more people in your home living off of this income, you would also get more.

Question: I gross almost $170K as an owner/operator truck driver, but net (fuel, tolls) is just below $20K for my family of 3. Would I qualify for assistance?

Answer: Because some states might interpret your gross amount differently in their calculations, I cannot give you a definitive answer. However, generally, your post-expense income has to be below $2,252 per month for a family of three. It sounds like you might qualify.

Question: My husband is self-employed, as a realtor. Yes, it sounds like he’s making tons, but he isn’t. Could we qualify for food stamps?

Answer: Yes, as long as he is considered self-employed you can qualify. Depending upon the state you live in, he would need to average 30x hourly minimum wage every week (pre-expense and pre-tax) if he is under 50 years of age. However, they might still take the average of what he earns all year instead. These are specifics you can only find out by applying. If you have children, you as a wife will probably be exempt from work requirements as well. Or if you are 50 years or over you should be exempt from work requirements. You can apply for Medicaid free healthcare at the same time. Many low-income self-employed people now have full health insurance because of this.

Question: What if you work for Uber or Lyft? Are those self employed? Confused. What's the requirements income for a family of 3?

Answer: Yes, if you work for Uber or Lyft you are self-employed. If you make over $600 in a year from either of them you should receive a 1099 form that is also reported to the IRS. The income maximum for a family of 3 for food stamps is around $21,000.

Question: Can you receive SNAP if you're 51 years old, self-employed, and get paid in cash?

Answer: Yes, you can. You have to be able to document your earnings, however. You can do the self-employment ledger your first year on SNAP. In the following years, to keep getting SNAP, you will need to provide them with your 1040 tax forms to prove you are indeed self-employed. This process can also be used to get Medicaid health insurance.

Question: I am applying for SNAP benefits in NY and am being asked for ridiculous documentation. Who do I file a complaint with?

Answer: You can ask your caseworker if they will accept other forms of documentation that you do have. Sometimes you can get a supervisor's name and discuss the issue with them if the caseworker is unresponsive. If your caseworker does not accept your documentation and you are denied, your denial letter should also contain information about requesting a state hearing. If the documentation doesn't have that information, check the web for state hearing requests in your state for SNAP.

Question: I understand that the income amount they are considering for eligibility is before taxes. Does that take into consideration the deductible part of the self-employment tax? In other words, are they going by total income (IRS form 1040, line 22) or AGI (IRS form 1040, line 37)?

Answer: No, the SNAP program does not consider any taxes at all in their calculation for food stamps.

Question: When being evaluated for food stamps or SNAP benefits, are the evaluators using the total income (line 22) before the 50% self-employment tax credit is deducted?

Answer: Yes, on a 2017 tax form, it should be line 22 (with line 12 referring to the business income total).

However, if you are under 50 years old, the caseworker in your state might go by current income rather than your tax forms since many states now require you to currently work to get food stamps each month. If you are over 50 they will most likely go by your tax forms for the previous year.

Question: I'm just starting my business working over 30 hours a week but have no income yet and only expenses, would I still qualify for EBT and Medicaid in the state of MI?

Answer: Right now many states have income requirements for receiving SNAP. For example, you might be confronted with the requirement to provide 30 hours of minimum wage self-employment income per week. Or you might be given SNAP for three months before this requirement kicks in. In addition, Michigan appears to be starting a work requirement (probably 20 hours of minimum wage self-employment income per week) for many people for receiving Medicaid. I encourage you to apply to see what you can receive.

Question: I have a family of 3. It is just me and my 2 minor kids. I am a new Licensed Life Insurance agent. I am an independent agent and only get paid by commission. I'm already on food stamps. Would I still continue to qualify?

Answer: If you are not required to have an income equivalent to 30x minimum wage per week then you should continue to qualify if you are within the income limits. The 30x minimum wage requirement is for self-employed people who do not have kids or who are disabled or medically unfit for work.

Question: I'm just starting my business working over 30 hours a week but have no income yet and only expenses, would I still qualify for EBT in the state of OK?

Answer: Right now many states have work requirements to get SNAP. For example, you might need to provide 30 hours of minimum wage self-employment income per week. Or you might be provided SNAP for three months before this requirement kicks in.

Question: I have a fairly stable 1099 job that is mostly 3rd shift. I have a few friends that own business that I would like to work with occasionally (three times a month or so). Do I need to report new employment every time I work with someone new, assuming I do not go over my limit?

Answer: No, you generally do not need to report changes that don't go over your income limit. You can wait until it's time to fill out your interim report for this.

Question: What if I’m remodeling a house for a place to live. Do I qualify for food stamps?

Answer: I'm not sure what your overall situation is so I couldn't answer this. Remodeling a house alone would not qualify you for food stamps. You would need to provide your local SNAP office with the components outlined in the above article that detail your self-employment income. You could deduct the business portion of the home for expenses (including % of tools and materials based on % of home your business plans to occupy). Also, you would need to choose which address is your permanent home address when corresponding for the SNAP office. You might have to provide utility bills for your initial application as well.

Question: I own an S Corp. How does this work with food stamps?

Answer: Depending upon how your state handles this, if you have not filed a tax return yet, you might need to show your articles of incorporation. An S corporation's income is treated as self-employment income and averaged out on a yearly basis once you have filed a tax return.

© 2015 Stove And Home


CornerStore on April 03, 2020:

Hi,it's been a tough winter for my business and I'm in the negative for last 3 months. Looks like it is slowly improving, but until I turn positive, I'm raking up credit card and line of credit bills. Laid off most of the employees because it has been slow, so I'm working around 60-70 hours a week right now. My store is s-corp and I can write myself any amount for paycheck. the paycheck would come straight back in to the business anyways.

if I write myself wage that will cover 30 hours of pay, but stay under the limit. Would I be able to receive benefits? or would that be considered fraud, since I'm working 70 hours and taking home negative dollars....

thanks in advance

thoney on March 05, 2020:

Hi there i have a question. this regarding the state of North carolina. If i own a business in NC im a C-corp. I am a employee of my company. I get paystubs, w2s, i have my personal banking account and i file my personal taxes. My business has its own ein, banking account, and file its own taxes. Am i still considered self-employed? and if i apply for benefits do they look at both my personal and business income together for elgibility even though i am a employee of my company or just my personal income from the business? also i do not take any owner draws......

Stove And Home (author) on October 30, 2019:

I am sorry to hear you do not qualify for SNAP. Yes, depreciation is not an allowed expense under SNAP rules, no one explains why this is so to the public. From my research it is due to depreciation complicating for caseworkers the picture of actual current income and expenses ... money that goes in and out in any given month.

I really hope you will at least be able to utilize food pantries to help feed your family.

Nolan Hilbrands on October 29, 2019:

My caseworker told me I don't qualify for SNAP benefits for a family of 6. I'm a self employed farmer. I show a negative on my shedual, but was informed they do not recognize depreciation as an expense? Is this true and can you please explain why this is?

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