Author: Revisions Contributed by Dawn Howell & Kate McCartin, Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
Last updated: September 2011
The Food Stamp Program is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The SNAP program is federally funded, but administered by the states. Applications for SNAP benefits are made at local Department of Human Services (DHS) offices and certain other outreach locations. Applications can also be filed online. Eligibility is based on certain non-financial criteria, most notably:
The Link system replaced benefits checks and food stamps with an ATM type card. Instead of a check or food stamp coupons, recipients get a "Link" card that looks like an ATM or credit card. Each month cash and/or SNAP benefits are credited to the recipient’s account and issued to the Link card. Only one Link card is issued to a case. Once an application is approved, the Link card is mailed to a customer's home address by the Centralized Link Line. Once the head of the SNAP household receives the card, they will be instructed to call and set up the card with a four digit personal identification number (PIN). Recipients can use the LINK card at store Point of Sale terminals (POS terminals), which scan the card and deduct the amount of the purchase from the recipient’s account. SNAP benefits are distinct from cash benefits in the recipient’s account (such as the General Assistance or Transitional Assistance programs). SNAP benefits can only be used, even electronically, for food purchases. Recipients cannot cash in SNAP benefits.
Vendors can also have recipients sign vouchers for the amount of purchase. For a voucher, however, the vendor has to call a central number to determine whether the recipient has sufficient funds to cover the purchase. A freeze is then placed on the account for the amount of the purchase. There is a $125 limit per voucher transaction.
Recipients of SNAP benefits can inquire about the balance in their account at an ATM two free times per calendar month. Recipients get their benefits based on a fiscal month, not a calendar month, so this could be confusing. After that, there is a 50-cent charge for a balance inquiry at an ATM. If a recipient incurs $5.00 in such fees for a month, she cannot use an ATM for the remainder of the month. Recipients can still receive account balance information at POS terminals. They can also obtain their account balance information by calling the Illinois Link Helpline (at 1-800-678-5465 (LINK) and entering the 19 digit number found on the front of the Link card).
Recipients who lose or damage their Link cards must call the Illinois Link Line to request a replacement card. The card will be mailed to their address. Their account will be frozen when the card is reported lost. When they receive the new card, they will be given instructions on how to call the Link Line to select their PIN number and reactivate the account. If a recipient loses or forgets her PIN number, she can get a new PIN by calling the Illinois Link Helpline (1-800-678-5465).
Occasionally, benefits are expunged. For canceled cases, the account(s) remain open until:
For active cases, the account will be expunged if it is not accessed for 365 days.
Expunged benefits are no longer available to the recipient. If there is an outstanding overpayment claim against the recipient, the amount of benefits expunged will be credited toward the claim. Cash benefits will be credited for a cash overpayment; SNAP benefits will be credited for a SNAP overpayment.
Applications are now available online. Application forms are also available at the local DHS office, and must be provided upon request, without an appointment. A household may apply at any IDHS office. Persons can call and request that a SNAP application be sent to them by mail. They can return the application by mail or by facsimile.
Applicants have the right to file their applications the same day they first contact the DHS office. A partially complete application is sufficient (name, address, and signature of an adult member of the household) to trigger the deadlines for processing, but benefits cannot be approved until the application is completed in its entirety. Applications may be made in person or by an authorized representative who has been designated by the applicant in writing.
Intake staff will set-up an intake interview and request the applicant to bring in several items, including things to show income and expenses, to verify the household’s eligibility for SNAP benefits. If, without good cause, the applicant does not return the information within the time frame required, the application may be denied. DHS staff must assist applicants to obtain verification. Applicants can also request additional time to obtain verifications.
DHS has 30 days from the date an application is filed to process an application. Although a face-to-face intake interview is generally required, reasonable accommodations must be made for the disabled and those who are employed. The intake interview should be scheduled within 14 days of the application filing date. For expedited SNAP benefits, see below.
All SNAP applications must be screened by DHS to determine whether the applicant qualifies for expedited benefit processing. Expedited benefits must be available within 5 calendar days. A household that qualifies for expedited processing should be given a Link card at the DHS Office.
The eligibility criteria for expedited SNAP Benefits are:
• $100 or less in liquid resources (cash, bank accounts, etc), and $150 or less in monthly income
• Monthly rent/mortgage and applicable utility standard are greater than monthly income and liquid resources combined, or
• At least one person in your household is a migrant farm worker and your liquid resources (cash, bank accounts, etc.) are less than $100
The intake interview for persons who may qualify for expedited SNAP benefits must be scheduled the day of application or the following day.
Many changes were made in the Food Stamp program by the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Although the Food Stamp program was retained as a federal entitlement program, states have many options in administering it.
Individuals in some counties may be required to comply with a separate program called the SNAP Employment and Training Program (E&T) (See Work Requirements).
Please Note: For now, there is no longer a work requirement in SNAP, although some households do still have to cooperate with E &T activities.
Except for narrow categories, most non-citizens are ineligible for SNAP benefits.
Immigrants who remain eligible are:
Eligibility for SNAP is determined by household composition. A household is defined as persons living alone or a group of people living together who customarily purchase and prepare their meals together. A household must apply for SNAP Benefits as one unit.
Although these persons may not be related by blood or marriage, certain family members living together must be included in a household for purposes of determining eligibility. All parents and children under age 22 living under one roof must be considered one household (unless they live in separate apartments and only share a common entry way), even if the children are married or have children of their own.
The household will select any adult parent of a child in the household as the head of household if all adult household members making application agree to the selection. The household can make this designation each time the household is certified for participation. This designation cannot change within a certification period unless there is a change in the composition of the household. Elderly persons age 60 and over (and spouses) unable to purchase and prepare their own meals because of a permanent disability can apply for SNAP as a separate household even though they are living and eating with others, provided that the gross income of persons who live (excluding the spouse) with them does not exceed 165% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Roomers and boarders are not considered as part of a household if they pay a reasonable compensation for their room and board.
Persons residing in shelters or in residential drug rehabilitation programs may qualify for separate household status.
Students between the ages of 18 and 50 enrolled in an institute of higher education at least half-time are eligible for SNAP only if they meet an exemption.
An institute of higher education is defined as a business, technical, trade or vocational school that normally requires a high school diploma or the equivalent for enrollment in the course of study; or regular courses or a college or university that offers degree programs. A college or university student enrolled only in literacy, adult basic education, GED or English as a second language program is not considered to be a student under this rule.
The eligible student exemption begins the month the school term begins or the month the state or federal work-study is approved, whichever is later. The exemption continues through the end of the month the school term ends or the student refuses an assignment.
The exemption includes if the student:
NOTE: Child care is adequate and the student is ineligible when:
The eligible student exemption does not continue between terms when there is a break of a full month or longer. The exemption does continue if the student works in a state or federal work-study assignment during the break. To qualify during the break, the student must continue to meet one of the above items.
No fixed residence is required, and homeless persons are eligible. Vacationers are not eligible. A person cannot receive benefits in more than one household in any payment month.
Verification of residence is not required for homeless persons, but DHS must have a means to administer benefits for homeless persons.
Households must provide a social security number for each household member. Persons for whom no social security number is provided without good cause are ineligible for SNAP. A household should not be denied SNAP if they are in the process of obtaining a SSN.
The SNAP program has several work related requirements that pre-date the 1996 welfare legislation. However, people are exempt from the SNAP work requirement through 9/30/2014 due to the high state unemployment rate. Even with the exemption, some customers who would have to meet the work requirement if the state was not exempt must still participate and comply with other work requirements and/or SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) activities where the program operates (this includes Cook County). Failure to comply with any of these requirements without good cause can lead to serious sanctions, described below.
If the head of household voluntarily quits a job, reduces work hours, or participates in a strike without good cause within 60 days before or any time thereafter she applies for SNAP, the entire household may be sanctioned.
A job quit does not affect eligibility if:
A voluntary reduction in work hours to less than 30 hours per week does not affect eligibility if:
Participation and compliance with the SNAP E&T activities is mandatory for a SNAP person who:
A person is exempt if she is:
NOTE: The persons listed above who are mandatory for the SNAP E&T program are subject to meeting the SNAP work requirement (3 in 36 rule) if they live in an area of the state that has the SNAP work requirement policy (see PM 03-25-00).
Clients in E&T take part in one or more of the following activities:
NOTE: The Earnfare program is limited to adults who receive SNAP benefits and volunteer, or to persons who are court-ordered to participate.
A person who violates any of the SNAP work provisions or TANF work and training requirements without good cause is sanctioned from receiving SNAP benefits for:
Most households do not have their assets counted when applying for SNAP. Households that have a member with a sanction or fraud violation must meet an asset test. Households with a qualifying member must meet an asset test if they have more than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level in monthly income.
See PM 05-06-01.
To be considered a qualifying member a person must meet one of the following criteria:
SNAP units without a qualifying member that have a work provision sanction or an Intentional Program Violation (IPV) must meet the 130% gross income standard, the net income standard and the asset limit of $2000.
SNAP units with a qualifying member and over 200% of the Federal Poverty Level in monthly income must meet the maximum net income standard and the $3000 asset limit to receive SNAP benefits.
For a complete list of exempt and non-exempt assets, see PM 07-04-00.
Liquid Assets include (not an exclusive list):
Non-liquid assets (not an exclusive list):
The following vehicles are excluded from the asset test:
Some assets do not count in the asset test, such as:
Note: Jointly owned assets are considered available in their entirety to each joint tenant unless the household can establish that it has access only to a portion of the resource. Joint resources are not accessible if the household cannot practically subdivide them, or access is dependent on the other joint tenant who refuses to comply.
Other exempt assets from the asset test include:
A SNAP household subject to the asset limits will be disqualified from SNAP benefits for up to one year from the date of discovery if a unit member, including an ineligible unit member, has knowingly transferred assets:
The maximum income a household may have and still be eligible for SNAP depends on the household’s size and composition. A household without a "qualifying member" must have a gross income that is at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. The current maximum gross income is $1,245/month for 1 person and $2,552/month for 4 people when there is no "qualifying member" in the household.
If a household contains a person who is elderly or disabled (referred to as a "qualifying member"), then the household unit gross income must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. The current maximum gross income for a household with a "qualifying member" is $1,915/month for 1 person and $3,925/month for 4 people.
For other households, not categorically eligible, eligibility is based on gross income limits first, then on net monthly income (i.e., the household must meet both tests). For the gross income test, there are no exclusions from income.
Monthly income includes all earned and unearned income received or expected to be received each month by all members of the household from all sources, unless the source is excluded as described below.
See DHS PM 08-04-00 for a complete list of exemptions and definitions.
Use the online SNAP Calculator to determine eligibility.
SNAP benefits are not paid to all households at the same time of the month. DHS staggers payments to eligible households on different dates throughout the month. Rather than calendar months, payments are made for "fiscal months." For example, a household’s January fiscal month may be January 15-February 14. Households must be informed of their fiscal months, and the date of the month they can expect to receive their SNAP benefits.
Eligible households are "certified" to receive SNAP, provided they continue to remain eligible, for a certification period. Generally the certification period for households in monthly or quarterly reporting is 12 months. For households in which every member is either elderly or disabled the certification period is usually 24 months. For most others, it is six months. Households approved for expedited SNAP that have not completed verification of all the factors of eligibility may be certified for less than 3 months, until the verification is completed.
Notice of expiration of certification must be received by the household no later than the first day of the household’s last month of certification and must inform the household of the date the certification period ends and what it must do to continue to renew their eligibility for SNAP.
Note: At the end of a certification period the household must file a new application of "re-certification" (also referred to as “REDE”) for continued SNAP.
Households that submit a recertification by the 15th of the first month after the certification expiration are entitled to uninterrupted SNAP, if they remain eligible otherwise.
Households with earned income use prospective semi-annual reporting and budgeting. TANF and SNAP are calculated for the next six months based on the household’s income in the current period.
The household must report any of the following changes within 10 calendar days of date the change becomes known to the household:
Some households are notified at the time of their SNAP decision that their households are in a group with EZ REDE reporting requirements. EZ REDE Units are only required to report when their income exceeds the Gross Monthly Income Standard for the unit's size.
DHS will establish a claim against a household that receives more SNAP benefits than it was entitled to receive.
There are three categories of SNAP overpayments:
The state must attempt collection unless the amount is less than $35, the agency cannot locate the household, or the claim has been offset by an under issuance.
When figuring a SNAP overpayment, DHS must not collect:
For current recipients, overpayments will be collected by reducing their SNAP benefits by 10% for agency error and inadvertent household error and 20% for intentional program violations.
Note: Prior to 8/22/96, the agency could not reduce benefits to collect agency error overpayment. DHS is now applying the new law retroactively, which advocates have successfully challenged in Stone v. Redell, 308 F.3d 751 (7th Cir. 2002).
For former recipients who fail to make payments on over issuance claims, the agency may refer an overpayment case to the State Comptroller for offsetting of any state check that may be due the recipient (including unemployment insurance and state income tax refunds) or to the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program for offsetting a federal tax refund check. Social Security benefits (not SSI) can be offset up to 15% of the monthly payment amount to collect the overpayment (Note: the first $750 of monthly benefits is exempt.)
Note: Overpayments that are not IPVs can usually be discharged in bankruptcy. Even if the SNAP recipient did not list the SNAP overpayment in the bankruptcy, it can still be considered discharged. In Re Mendiola, 99 B.R. 864 (Bankr. N.D. Ill 1989).
Households that commit intentional violations of the SNAP program rules are subject to a severe penalty. To establish an intentional program violation, the state agency must show by clear and convincing evidence that the household member made a false or misleading statement, misrepresented, concealed or withheld facts, or committed an act that constitutes a violation of the appropriate statutes or regulations relating to the use, presentation, transfer, acquisition, receipt or possession of SNAP coupons or ATPs.
Unlike other decisions of the state agency, to establish an IPV, DHS must hold an administrative disqualification hearing unless the person is being prosecuted for the offense or signs a waiver of her right to a hearing. It is never advisable to sign a waiver. If the individual suspected of an intentional program violation does not want to contest the allegation, she can simply fail to attend the disqualification hearing, rather than sign the waiver form. If the individual signs the waiver, the disqualification will be imposed. If she defaults at the hearing, the department must still prove to the hearing officer that the intentional program violation occurred.
The individual suspected of an intentional program violation is entitled to notice of the allegations against her. At a minimum, the notice must state the date, time and place of the hearing, the charges against the household, a summary of the evidence against the household, a warning that the decision will be based solely on the DHS information if the accused doesn't appear at the hearing, a listing of the household member’s rights, a description of the penalties involved, and a statement that the hearing does not preclude prosecution.
The notice of the scheduled hearing must be mailed certified mail return receipt requested or by some other method that proves receipt. The time and place of the hearing must be so as to be accessible to the household member accused. The suspected household member must have 30 days advance notice of the scheduled hearing. She may request a postponement, up to two days before the scheduled hearing date. A continuance at the hearing can be requested for any reason if it is the first request.
Note: If the recipient has good cause for failing to attend a hearing within 30 days of the hearing date, she is entitled to a new hearing date.
If the accused household member claims she did not receive the notice of the scheduled hearing, and the office cannot prove the notice was actually received or refused, a second hearing must be scheduled.
A pending disqualification hearing does not affect the household’s right to be certified and receive SNAP.
An individual has the right to counsel, to see the evidence in her file, to confront and cross examine the witnesses against her at the hearing. The agency has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the suspected household member committed an intentional program violation.
The decision of the administrative disqualification hearing officer must be in writing, based on the evidence of record only and must specify the reasons for the decision, identify the supporting evidence, identify the pertinent federal regulations, respond to reasoned arguments made by the household member or representative, and inform the household of the date the disqualification will take effect.
Recipients who have committed an intentional program violation are ineligible for 12 months for the first such instance (penalty increased as of 8/22/96); 24 months for the second, and permanent disqualification for the third.
There are special increased penalties for certain situations:
In the event that a SNAP/food stamp program violation is found against a household member that no longer receives SNAP benefits, the disqualification period begins to run starting the first month after the disqualification decision, even though the household member would not have gotten food stamps anyway.
For current SNAP recipients, the disqualification must be imposed by the second month following the disqualification decision. If DHS fails to do so, an agency error overpayment is established.
Only the household member who is found to have committed the IPV is removed from SNAP. Other household members may continue to receive SNAP if otherwise still eligible.
Notice of adverse action. Adverse actions are those having a negative effect on a household’s ability to participate in the SNAP program (other than intentional program violations, which require the agency to take the special actions described above).
Prior to taking any adverse action, DHS must send the household adequate notice of adverse action, 10 days before any action is taken to terminate or reduce benefits.
To be adequate, the notice must contain:
Households have 90 days from the date of the notice to request a hearing. A hearing should be scheduled and a decision issued within 60 days of the date of the request.
If the household requests a hearing within the date of change on the notice, SNAP benefits must be continued until the hearing decision has been made, unless the household waives its right to continued benefits or the household’s certification period expires and the household has failed to recertify.
Where submission of a required report is at issue, the household’s receipt of continuing benefits is contingent upon the completion of the report by the end of the month in which the appeal is filed. 7 CFR 273.21 (p)(2)(m).
A postponement of a hearing can be requested for any reason within 2 business days before the hearing. This request should be made in writing. A continuance request at the hearing must be granted if it is the first request.
During an appeal, the household has the right:
The household has the right to a written decision that must include:
Decisions are reviewable in the Circuit Court by writ of certiorari. It is usually advisable to file within 35 days of the date of the decision as required by the Administrative Procedure Act. However, case law allows writs to be filed within 180 days after the date of the decision.
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