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

Updated on June 25, 2017
Food stamps for the self employed or contractors
Food stamps for the self employed or contractors

Self Employed People that 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

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 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 in your home. Here's how to get your SNAP benefits.

In addition, once you get approved for food stamps, you'll be eligible for other benefits, such as a free baby crib, free cell phone, and Medicaid national healthcare. In the past it was very difficult for self-employed people to get these benefits, but the U.S. and state governments have made it easier in the past few years.


President Trump's 2018 Budget and the SNAP Program

Although President Trump's 2018 budget released on May 23, 2017, focuses on reducing the food stamp budget by billions of dollars in the coming years, so far the focus is on reinstating mandatory work guidelines for SNAP recipients. Since you are self-employed, you already have a source of work.


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 initial business income. This gives you your gross income calculation, which is also 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. In most cases, 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: What you will need to do is fill out a self-employment ledger, preferably one you design yourself. 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 income, expense, and final income columns. The final income column should be pre-tax. 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.

  5. To back the self-employment ledger up, it is ideal if you also have payment statements from the people that hired or you sold goods to, such as an invoice or a "You just received a payment from _________" in PayPal, for example. Some self-employed people do not have such forms though. In many cases the US and state governments are simply taking you on your word from your ledgers for your income statements because they realize that a clear-cut tax/wage paper trail is often not possible for self-employed people/contractors. In most cases you will not be presenting 1099 forms because they do not represent a true breakdown of your income as they are pre-business expense, and 1099 forms only reflect the previous year's income. SNAP aid offices usually do not ask for a copy of your filed taxes either.

  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, you can also get emergency food stamps in as little as 7 days.

Proof You Need to Apply for Food Stamps

Typical proof requirements for food stamp recipients
Typical proof requirements for food stamp recipients

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.

Employment and Unemployment Technicalities

  • You normally cannot be forced to apply for unemployment compensation if you have been unemployed 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 live in a county or state that requires you to work to get food stamps (often referred to as workfare), your self-employment will generally fill this requirement if you make 30 times hourly federal minimum wage per week (gross income you would get if you worked 30 hours a week at minimum wage). If you do not, you could be forced to apply for jobs after three months on SNAP benefits if you are an able bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD).
  • If you are pregnant, disabled, parent to a minor or disabled person, or 60 years of age or older you are exempt from any federal work requirements to get food stamps.

How Food Stamps Help Americans

Must-Know Tips for Getting Food Stamps/SNAP Benefits as a Self-Employed Person!

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On Your Side:

  • Most states allow you to exempt your house, car, and retirement accounts from the asset calculations. You will usually 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 Complications:

  • If you have a high level of expenses, for example $3,000 in expenses and $1,000 in income for the month, this could count against you. Occasionally counselors will count your expenses as income. Basically they are thinking if you put out $3,000 in expenses, it means you had that money to dispose of (even though this money has left your hands for business purposes and you have that as a loss). Until this misunderstanding gets cleared up in government, it is best for you if you do not have any high levels of expenses for the months you have to provide proof of income. Do not let this discourage you from applying for food stamps. If you have a lot of expenses and you get denied, you can still appeal and explain your expenses.
  • 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.


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

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