How Food Stamps and TANF Differ — And Can You Qualify for Both?

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There is a popular misconception many Americans have about assistance programs — that because an individual or family qualifies for one, they are ineligible for another. That error results in many eligible households not getting all the assistance available to them

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When it comes to two similar federally funded, state-administered programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the wrong impression couldn’t be further from the truth.

While there are differences between how the two programs’ benefits are distributed, the types of items benefits can buy and how long you can receive each aid package, the good news is that the two programs are completely distinct, and you can receive both at the same time if you qualify. Some states allow you to apply for TANF financial assistance, SNAP/food stamps and even Medicaid at the same time, using the same application form.

What Are the Differences Between SNAP and TANF?

Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides food-purchase assistance to low- and no-income households. A household can include one person living alone or related or unrelated cohabitating individuals who routinely purchase and prepare meals together. Although it’s a federal program, state agencies administer it through their local offices.

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TANF benefits help low-income families with dependent children achieve self-sufficiency. States receive funding for the program through block grants issued by the federal government, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Who Is Eligible for SNAP and TANF Benefits?

Although eligibility regulations differ by state, in most cases, a household must meet both gross and net income (gross income minus allowable deductions) limits listed on the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website, located here, to be eligible for SNAP benefits.

Eligibility for the TANF program is based on income. To be eligible, you must be unemployed or underemployed and have a child age 18 or younger or be pregnant or be a child age 18 or younger.

How Do I Apply for the SNAP and TANF Programs?

To apply for SNAP benefits, visit or contact your local SNAP office. The USDA provides a state directory of SNAP services, which you you’ll find here. DHHS has a similar resource page for state TANF resources located here.

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What Can Be Purchased Using SNAP and TANF Benefits?

SNAP is designated for food purchases, as GOBankingRates has reported. You can use your benefits to buy fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, breads and cereals, snack foods, non-alcoholic beverages and seeds and plants that produce food for the household to eat. Alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, cleaning supplies, paper products, cosmetics, vitamins, medicines, supplements, live animals and pet foods are among the items you can’t buy with SNAP benefits.

TANF benefits can be used on a wider variety of household essentials. Rent and mortgage payments can be paid for with TANF funds, as can household appliances, laundry services and personal hygiene products, internet and phone service and medical bills and supplies not covered by Medicaid.

Recipients in both SNAP and TANF receive funds via electronic benefit cards that are used to buy goods and services. You can make cash withdrawals with your TANF EBT card. The food stamp program does not allow cash withdrawals from an ATM.

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How Long Can You Receive SNAP and TANF Benefits?

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition service, when you are approved to receive SNAP benefits, you will receive a notice detailing your certification period, which is the length of time you’ll receive benefits. Toward the end of your certification period, you’ll receive a notice with instructions for when and how to recertify.

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TANF benefit periods very by state and generally have a lifetime limit of five years. States can provide hardship-based extensions in a limited number of cases.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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