How to Apply for Welfare & Food Stamps


Federal welfare programs provide services that allow poor citizens to meet their basic needs. Programs such as Food Stamps, TANF and Medicaid are administered through local social services agencies with policy written by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. Not all people will be eligible for all programs. Some require you to have children in your household or for you to be permanently disabled. The best way to determine eligibility for any program is to apply and let a trained caseworker review your situation.

Find out what programs are available to you by navigating to your county social services website or calling the office’s main telephone number. You can apply for any or all programs if you think you’re eligible.

Gather proof of any income people in your household have had in the past three months. Some programs require a longer pay history than others, so it helps to err on the side of caution, especially if your income was sporadic. A household is considered people who are required to be on your case. That varies from program to program. Income includes money you’ve received from working and also unearned sources, such as child support, that reoccur.

Find paperwork that states the value of any resources you have. Caseworkers will need to know how much money you have in bank accounts, whether you have too many vehicles for your household size, whether you have land or rental property that can be sold, or if you other investments.

Call your local social services office and ask what its hours are and whether you need an appointment to come in. Some programs may only see applicants on certain days of the week. You must apply in the county or district you live in— you cannot go to a neighboring county to apply unless told to do so.

Arrive at your social services office and be prepared for your interview. You must complete an interview about your situation in order for your case to be processed. The caseworker will ask you to clarify information you’ve written in your application and tell you what further items you need to provide as proof.

Agree to allow the agency to verify any information you have provided. That may require phone calls to employers, neighbors and family members.

Ask your caseworker how long you will need to wait for your case to be processed. Also ask whether you are eligible for expedited processing or any sort of emergency benefits to buy food.

Wait for notification in the mail telling you what the status of your case is. You will always receive a decision about a social services case in writing even if your caseworker tells you your status in person or over the phone.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before leaving your interview, ask your caseworker if she knows of any other social services programs or other subsidies you may be eligible for.
  • If you are ineligible for federal programs, look in your local phone directory or do an Internet search for resources that may meet your needs. There may be services offered by nonprofit organizations and religious organizations that have their own application processes and guidelines.

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