Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Facts About the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

On October 1, 2008, the Federal government changed the name of the Food Stamp Program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.


Maine’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is called the Food Supplement Program. This program helps low-income people buy the food they need for good health. You may be able to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance if you:

  • work for low wages
  • are unemployed or work part time,
  • receive welfare or other public assistance payments,
  • are elderly or disabled and live on a small income, or
  • are homeless,

State public assistance agencies run the program through their local offices. The following basic rules apply in most States, but a few States have different rules.

The amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance you can get is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan, which is an estimate of how much it costs to buy food to prepare nutritious, low-cost meals for your household. This estimate is changed every year in October to keep pace with food prices.

In the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a household is normally a group of people who live together and buy food and prepare meals together. If your household passes the program's eligibility tests, the amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance you get will depend on the number of people in your household and on how much monthly income is left after certain expenses (deductions) are subtracted.

For most households, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance is only part of their food budget; they must spend some of their own cash along with their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance in order to buy enough food for a month.

For more information or to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, you should contact your local DHHS Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office or call 1-800-442-6003 and ask for the Food Supplement Program Manager.

Applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance:

In Maine, there is no need to fill out an application form.  All you need to do is visit or call your local DHHS Office for Family Independence (OFI) office and complete an inter-active interview.  During the interview, all the information you give the interviewer is entered into a computer.  When the interview is finished, you will be asked to sign the completed application form printed from the computer.  If your interview is conducted over the phone, the completed form will be mailed to you for signature.  Some information you give the interviewer may have to be verified before benefits are issued.

If you prefer, the OFI office will give you an application form on the same day you ask for one. You may ask for it in person, over the phone, or by mail; or someone else may get one for you.

The office will accept the form on the same day you turn it in, even if they cannot interview you on that day. Fill in your name, address, telephone number, and as much other information as you can on the form, and sign it. Give or send the form to the office as soon as possible. An Eligibility worker can help you fill out the rest of the form during your interview.

You must answer all questions completely and honestly. If you fail to do so, you can be removed from the program, fined, put in prison, or all three.

If you qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, you will get benefits no later than 30 days from the date the office got your application.

If your household has little or no money and needs help right away, let the OFI office know--you may be able to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance within 7 days.

After you have turned in your paper application, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office will contact you to set up an interview to go over your application.

An Eligibility worker will explain the program rules and help you complete any parts of the application that you have not filled out.  Ask the worker to explain anything you don't understand. It's important that you understand the rules.

Meeting Eligibility Rules and Providing Proof That You Are Eligible

The following are some of the basic rules and the kinds of proof you may need during your interview. Your case may be completed faster if you bring the proof with you to the interview.

If you have trouble getting papers (documents) or information you need, the worker may be able to help you. If the papers are not easy to get, you may give the name of someone, such as your employer, who can confirm your statements.


U.S. citizens and many noncitizens may be eligible for the program. For example:

  • Refugees, asylees, Cubans, Haitians, Amerasians, and persons whose deportation has been withheld may be eligible for 7 years after they enter the United States or are granted status.
  • Persons legally admitted for permanent residence may be eligible if they have 40 qualifying quarters of Social Security work coverage or they have a U.S. military connection.
  • Refugees, asylees, Cubans, Haitians, Amerasians; persons whose deportation has been withheld; parolees; persons legally admitted for permanent residence; and battered aliens may all be eligible if they were legally living in the United States on August 22, 1996, and they were at least 65 on that date, or are now receiving disability payments, or are under the age of 18.
  • Native Americans who cross the Canadian or Mexican borders.
  • Certain Hmong and Highland Laotians and their spouses and children.

Even if some members of the household are not eligible, those who are may be able to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance.

Social Security Numbers:

You will have to provide a Social Security number for every household member, including children. If any household member does not have a Social Security number, he or she will have to apply for one. If you are otherwise eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, you can get benefits for a short time while you are waiting for your Social Security number.

Work Rules:

With Certain exceptions, able-bodied adults between 16 and 60 years of age must register for work, accept an offer of suitable work, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred by OFI.

Generally, able-bodied adults aged 18 to 50 who do not have children and are not pregnant can only get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for 3 months in a 3-year period unless they are working or participating in a work or workfare program. There are a few exceptions.


Most able-bodied students ages 18 through 49 who are enrolled in college or other institutions of higher education at least half are not eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. However, students may be able to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance if otherwise eligible if they:

  • Get public assistance benefits under a Title IV-A program;
  • Take part in a State or federally financed work study program;
  • Work at least 20 hours a week;
  • Are taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 6;
  • Are taking care of a dependent household member over the age of 5 but under 12 and do not have adequate child care to enable them to attend school and work a minimum of 20 hours, or to take part in a State or federally financed work study program; or
  • Are assigned to or placed in a college or certain other schools through:
    • A program under the Job Training Partnership Act,
    • A program under Section 236 of the Trade Act of 1974,
    • An employment and training program under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Act, or
    • An employment and training program operated by a State or local government.

Also, a single parent enrolled full time in college and taking care of a dependent household member under the age of 12 can get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance if otherwise eligible.

Persons on Strike:

Households with a person who is on strike because of a labor dispute are not eligible unless they were eligible the day before the strike and continue to be eligible at the time of application. Eligible households cannot get more Supplemental Nutrition Assistance just because the striking member is getting less income.


Under Supplemental Nutrition Assistance rules, resources--such as bank accounts, cash, real estate, personal property, some vehicles, and so forth--are considered in determining whether a household is eligible to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. Some resources are counted toward the allowable limit and some are not. The Eligibility worker will explain which are counted. All households may have up to $2,000 worth of countable resources and still be eligible. Households may have up to $3,000 and still be eligible if at least one member is age 60 or older.

The resources of people who get public assistance, SSI, and, in some locations, general assistance are not counted toward the limit.

Some resources that will not be counted are:

  • Your home and surrounding lot,
  • Household goods and personal belongings, and
  • Life insurance policies.

Examples of resources that will be counted are:

  • Cash and money in checking and savings accounts;
  • Stocks and bonds; and
  • Land and buildings, other than your home and lot, that do not produce income.

(Proof: Bank books, bank statements, and other documents.)
Licensed vehicles are handled as follows:

  • A vehicle is not counted as a resource if it is:
    • The primary vehicle (one per household),
    • Used over 50 percent of the time for producing income for the household,
    • Annually producing income consistent with its fair market value,
    • Necessary for long-distance travel for work (other than daily commute),
    • Used as the household's home,
    • Necessary to transport a physically disabled household member, or
    • Needed to carry most of the household's fuel or water.
    • Any vehicle used for employment, training or education to prepare for employment, or to look for employment to meet the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance employment and training rules.
  • For all other vehicles, the fair market value over $4,650 or the equity value, whichever is more, is a resource that will be counted. (Equity value is the market value of the vehicle, less the amount the household owes on it.)


Under Supplemental Nutrition Assistance rules, almost all types of income are counted to determine if a household is eligible. Most households must have income at or below certain dollar limits before and after deductions are allowed. However, households in which all members are getting public assistance, SSI, or general assistance do not have to meet the income eligibility tests.

(Proof: You must provide proof of the income of all household members. Examples of proof include latest pay stubs or a statement from your employer; and benefit letters from Social Security, Veterans Administration, unemployment compensation, or pensions.)


After adding all of your household's countable income, the Eligibility worker will subtract certain deductions. The income after deductions must fall below a certain dollar amount for your household to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. This dollar amount will depend on the number of people in your household. The following deductions are allowed for all households:

  • Standard deduction;
  • 20 percent of earned income;
  • actual costs of dependent care.  Dependent care includes care for children and is disabled adults if this care is needed so that a household member can work, look for a job, or get training or education leading to a job;
  • Legally owed child-support payments;
  • Shelter expenses that are more than half of your income (There is a dollar limit of the amount of shelter expenses that may be deducted unless there is an elderly or disabled member. If there is an elderly or disabled member, the dollar limit does not apply,); and
  • Medical expenses over $35 a month for household members who are age 60 or older or receiving certain disability payments (Medial costs are deductible only if they are not covered by insurance, a government program, or some other source.).

(Proof: Bills or records of payment for the following:

  • dependent-care costs, such as a babysitter, day-care center, or attendant for a disabled adult'
  • child-support payments, such as a court order and cancelled checks;
  • rent or mortgage;
  • insurance on the structure (but not the contents) of a home;
  • telephone, electricity, gas, oil, water sewerage, garbage collection, and installation costs for utilities; and
  • medical expenses and proof of any reimbursement, such as an insurance policy or statement form an insurance company or agency paying these bills.)

Finding Out If You Qualify

After your interview, the OFI office will send you a notice.

If you do not qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, the notice will explain why.

If you do qualify, the notice will explain how much Supplemental Nutrition Assistance you will get. It will also tell you how many months you can get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance before you must reapply.

If you think your application has been wrongly denied or that you have not gotten the correct amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, you should tell the office. If they do not agree, you must ask them to have your case reviewed by a fair hearing official. For more information about fair hearings, see the section entitled Your Rights.

Receiving Your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance

If the office finds that you are eligible, you will be able to get your benefits no later than 30 days from the date you first applied, unless you qualify for faster service. If you have no income (or very little income) for the month and you need help right away, you may qualify for 7-day service.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits are issued as electronic benefits and you will be given a plastic card called the “Pine Tree Card”.

The Pine Tree Card is a debit card you can use at the store to pay for food. The card is also called an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.  This same card may be used for other programs, such as TANF cash. You will see your name on the front of the card.

Before you can use your card you will need a personal identification number (PIN). To get or change your PIN, call the phone number on your card or come to the local DHHS OFI office. 

After you get your PIN, do not give it to anyone or write the PIN on the back of the card.  If someone has your card and knows your PIN, they can use up all your Food Stamp benefits.

You can use your card:

  • at stores that have a Quest logo on the door or window,
  • at some farmers’ markets (ask the seller if they accept Food Stamps before buying), and
  • for the Meals on Wheels Program.

If you still have Food Stamp Coupons, take them to the local DHHS office before June 17, 2009.  The coupon face value will be credited to your EBT Food Supplement account.  After June 17, 2009, Food Stamp coupons will have no value.

Spending Your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance

You can spend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance like cash at most stores that sell food. The cashier may ask you to show your Pine Tree Card and another form of ID.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance can only be used for food and for plants and seeds to grow food for your household to eat.

Sales tax cannot be charged on items bought with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance cannot be used to buy:

  • Any nonfood item, such as pet foods; soaps, paper products, and household supplies; grooming items, toothpaste and cosmetics
  • Alcoholic beverages and tobacco
  • Vitamins and medicines
  • Any food that will be eaten in the store
  • Hot foods that are ready to eat
  • Any food marketed to be heated in the store

Reporting on Your Household Circumstances

If you are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, you will be told what information to report and when to report.

It is extremely important that you report changes, so that your household gets the right amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. If you get any extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance because you have not reported the right information, when you were told to report it, you will have to pay back the value of the extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance.

Your Rights:

You have the right to:

  • Have your application accepted on the same day that you contact the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office in person;
  • Have an adult who knows your situation apply for you if you cannot get to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office;
  • Get your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance within 30 days after you apply if you do qualify for them;
  • Get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance within 7 days if you are in immediate need and qualify for faster service;
  • Not be discriminated against because you are elderly or because of sex, race, color, disability religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs;
  • Be told in advance if the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office is going to reduce or end your benefits during your certification period because of a change in your situation that you did not report in writing;
  • Look at your own case file and a copy of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rules, and
  • Have a fair hearing if you don't think the rules were applied correctly in your case. At a fair hearing, you may explain to a hearing official why you don't agree with what the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office has done.

You can ask DHHS OFI for a fair hearing in writing, in person, or over the phone. OFI will give you information about the hearing rules.

You can ask a friend or relative or anyone else to help you prepare for the hearing and go to the hearing with you.
In some cases, you can continue to get your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance without a change while you are waiting for the hearing decision.

If the official decides the DHHS OFI office is right, you will have to repay the value of any Supplemental Nutrition Assistance you did not have a right to get. If the hearing official decides you are right, you will continue to get or begin to get the correct amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. If the hearing official decides you are right and you did not get continued benefits, the amount of any Supplemental Nutrition Assistance you had a right to get will be given to you.

Your Responsibilities

When you apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, answer all questions completely and honestly. Sign your name to certify, under penalty of perjury, that all your answers are true.

  • Provide proof that you are eligible.
  • Promptly report changes in household circumstances to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance office when you are told to do so.
  • Do not put your money or possessions in someone else's name in order to be able to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance.
  • Do not make changes on any Supplemental Nutrition Assistance cards or documents.
  • Do not sell, trade, or give away your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or any Supplemental Nutrition Assistance cards or documents.
  • Use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance only to buy eligible items.

People who break Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rules may be disqualified from the program, fined, imprisoned, or all three.

Hot Line:

If you wish to report any misuse, fraud, waste, or abuse of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, you can use this toll-free hotline number: 1-800-424-9121. If you are in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, the number is (202) 690-1622.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD)

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Revised June 2008