There are many reasons why you may be wondering if a married couple can apply for food stamps separately. You may be separated, have drastically different financial situations, or be facing another difficult circumstance. Whatever it is, Low Income Relief is a judgment-free place and we’re happy to help.
Over the last decade, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the food stamps laws to help our readers make the most of those benefits. We’ve helped countless people apply for and receive more food stamps than they were getting before.
It’s important to carefully define your SNAP household.
The amount of food stamps benefits you receive will depend on your SNAP household size. Although this should be straightforward, it really isn’t. There are several criteria that have to be met for someone to be counted as part of your household, so sometimes not everyone who lives with you should be included (and sometimes, people who don’t live with you have to be included!).
Everyone who lives together and purchases and prepares meals together is grouped together as one SNAP household.USDA
Clearly, the rules are very specific. Your SNAP household only includes people who (1) live together and (2) purchase food together and (3) prepare meals together. You need to meet all of these criteria in order to be counted as one SNAP household.
There are many circumstances in which people who live together may not purchase food or prepare meals together. For example, if you are living with roommates, you may live together but eat separately. Even among married people, there are times when spouses will not purchase or prepare food together due to allergies, disabilities or other medical needs.
Can a married couple apply for food stamps separately?
There are only a few specific circumstances when a married couple can apply for food stamps separately. In most cases, a married couple has to apply together in order to receive benefits but there are a few notable exceptions to that rule.
If you need to apply for food stamps separately than your spouse, you need to carefully read the following scenarios to see if you are eligible for one of those exceptions.
Most married couples are automatically considered a household.
According to the USDA rules, your spouse will be considered part of your household in most circumstances. If you live together, you will usually be counted as part of the same household even if you purchase and prepare meals separately.
Some people who live together, such as spouses and most children under age 22, are included in the same SNAP household even if they purchase and prepare meals separately.USDA
As you can see, USDA will even consider adult children living at home as part of your household if they are under the age of 22. I ran into this rule headfirst when I was a young, married woman living with my in-laws. We couldn’t get food stamps, even though my husband was working and we lived independently in the basement of his parents house, because we were under the age of 22.
A separated couple may be able to apply separately.
If you are legally married but separated, you may be able to apply for food stamps separately. There are two situations in which this is true.
First, if you are not living at the same address, it is fairly easy to prove that you are not living together nor preparing meals together. As such, you do not meet the criteria of a household. You may be asked to provide evidence that you are separated or not living together when you apply.
Second, if you are living at the same address, you may be able to apply for food stamps separately if you can prove that you have separate living, cooking and sanitation facilities.
Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services explains this using the example of a husband and wife who have the same address, but the husband is living in a separate trailer on the property. As you read the following example, please remember that AU is short for Assistance Unit, which is another name for SNAP households.
Husband and wife are separated. The wife lives in the house, but the husband lives in a trailer on the property. They both claim to buy and cook their food separately from each other. The trailer has separate heating, cooking and sanitation facilities that the husband uses. The husband and wife can be separate AUs.Washington State DSHS
However, if the trailer did not have adequate cooking facilities and the husband had to cook some of his meals in the house, they would no longer be eligible to apply for food stamps separately. They would be considered one household because they share the same cooking facilities.
A married senior couple may be able to apply separately from the others they live with.
If you are still married and living together, there is still one circumstance in which you may be able to apply for food stamps separately.
According to USDA, a person who is both elderly and permanently disabled and their spouse may be considered a separate household as long as the other people living with them are very low income. This is defined as 165% of the federal poverty level or less.
If a person is 60 years of age or older and unable to purchase and prepare meals separately because of a permanent disability, the person and the person’s spouse may be a separate SNAP household if the others they live with do not have very much income (no more than 165 percent of the poverty level.USDA
In order to be disabled according to the USDA requirements, you must meet ONE of the following criteria:
- You receive SSI.
- You receive SSDI.
- You receive federal or state blindness payments.
- You receive state disability assistance based on SSI rules.
- You receive a disability retirement benefit from a government agency.
- You receive annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act AND you meet SSI disability requirements.
- You receive 100% disabled veteran’s benefits
- The VA has declared you permanently homebound.
- The VA has awarded you Aid & Attendance.
If you meet one of those criteria and you’re over the age of 60 and you must prepare meals separately due to your disability and your household’s income does not exceed 165% of the federal poverty level, then you may be able to apply for food stamps separately from the rest of the people you live with.
If an elderly and disabled person can’t buy and cook their own food, but they want to be a separate AU, we compare the income of the other people who live in the home to the 165% standard. We don’t count the income of the elderly and disabled person’s spouse in the above step because spouses who live in the same home must always be in the same AU.Washington DSHS
I realize all this can be very confusing, so let’s talk about John and Susan. John is over the age of 60 and severely disabled. John and Susan live with their adult children, Rick and Janet. Rick and Janet are very low income. John and Susan may be able to apply for food stamps separately from Rick and Janet in this case, even though they all live together.
Don’t forget these other food stamps tricks!
If you are permanently disabled, don’t forget to use an ESAP application if you can. These applications make it easier for older adults and disabled people to receive food stamps, because it shortens the application process and extends your recertification period so that you don’t have to do as much paperwork as often.