Answering Questions About Food Stamps, Including ‘Who Gets Them?’

June 20, 2013 Updated: July 18, 2015

About one in seven Americans–47 million as of March 2013–receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps through a card that looks and is used like a credit card. 

How much do they get? 

Average monthly benefits:

Per person: $132

Per household: $274

Have this many Americans always received food stamps?

No. The number of Americans on food stamps has been rapidly increasing since fiscal year 2000.


Fiscal year 2000: 17.2 million

Fiscal year 2007: 26 million (one in 11 Americans)

Fiscal year 2010: 40.3 million

March 2013: 47.7 million

Okay, one in seven Americans are receiving food stamps. So who are they? How old are they? Do all of them really need them? 

More than eight of 10 of the households receiving food stamps in 2011–the last year such data is available–lived in poverty, according to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture.

These further break down:

17 percent of households: gross income above poverty line

43 percent of households: income at or below half the poverty line

20 percent of households: no cash income of any kind

 The average gross income per household receiving food stamps was $744 a month. 

The average monthly benefit was $281.

A slight majority of the Americans –were either under 18 (45 percent) or 60 or older (9 percent). 

Average household size: 2.1 persons

Average household size–with children: 3.2 persons

Average household size–elderly persons: 1.3 persons

What should people know who are thinking about applying for food stamps?

If no one in your household is 60 or older, or disabled, you can’t have more than $2,000 in “countable resources,” such as a bank account. 

If someone in your household is 60 or older, or disabled, then countable resources can be as high as $3,250.

Resources don’t include homes and property, and depending on the state don’t include vehicles.

The gross monthly income limit, which depends on the household size, is 130 percent of the poverty line.

Right now, for instance, a single person household couldn’t apply for food stamps if the person makes more than $1,211 per month. For a family of four, their combined income couldn’t exceed $2,498 per month, and so on. A full chart is available here

Also, be aware that the people at your local agency that handles food stamp requests thoroughly check out applicants to make sure applicants meet the requirements. This usually includes verification with employers, personal connections, and/or landlords. 

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