Senior Citizens Handbook - Financial Assistance: Food Stamp Program

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Author: Jennifer Murphy, Staff Attorney-Prairie State Legal Services
Last updated: October 2015

(Chapter 1 Section 4 of Senior Citizens Handbook)

What It Is: A program that provides financial assistance for the purchase of food.

Where To Apply: Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS).

Who May Be Eligible: Anyone demonstrating financial need under the program rules. There are no age restrictions.

What is the Food Stamp Program?

The food stamp program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is designed to improve the quality and quantity of diets in low income households. In Illinois, it is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS).

DHS provides food stamps using the electronic benefit transfer system called Illinois "Link." DHS will issue a Link card to you which is used like a bank debit card. As you make food purchases using the card, the amount of the purchase is deducted from the balance on the card, and your receipt reflects this purchase.

In addition to using food stamps to buy food at the grocery store, food stamps can be used to pay for meals provided by the Meals-On-Wheels program. Also, they can be used to pay for group meals for the elderly and, in some cases, to pay for meals in certain restaurants.

Food stamps cannot be used to purchase non-food items like soap or toilet paper, or alcohol or tobacco.

Who is Eligible?

Anyone of any age can qualify for food stamps, providing they meet DHS eligibility requirements. Eligibility for food stamps is based on household need. DHS considers your income, your assets, and certain deductions. DHS may also consider the income and assets of other people who live with you. A “household” generally includes all persons who live, purchase and prepare food together. In some circumstances, persons over 60 or who have a disability may qualify as a separate household.

Income Eligibility

For persons age 60 and over or persons with disabilities, food stamp eligibility is based on "net household income." Generally, net household income may not exceed 100% of the federal poverty guidelines (for food stamps, these guidelines are adjusted during October of each year).


“Net income” means gross income minus allowable deductions. These deductions include:

  • A 20% deduction from earned income;
  • A standard deduction of $148 (Effective October 2015) for households of 3 or fewer, $161 for households of 4, $190 for households of 5, and $219 for households of 6 or more people;
  • A deduction for the full amount of dependent care costs for a child or disabled adult in the home when needed to enable a food stamp recipient to work or participate in training or education activities to prepare for work;
  • Medical expenses for elderly or disabled household members that are more than $35 for the month if they are not paid by insurance or by someone else;
  • Legally owed child support payments;
  • Excess shelter costs that are more than half of the household’s income after the other deductions. Allowable costs include your rent or mortgage payments plus taxes on your home and standard utility allowances ($364 in 2015 if you pay for heat or air conditioning, for example). For persons over age 60 or disabled, this deduction has no maximum limit.

Although food stamp eligibility is generally based on the income of all persons in the household, persons over 60 may qualify as a separate household, even if they buy and prepare their food with others in the household. 

Many seniors who are eligible do not apply because they incorrectly believe their income is too high. You can check your eligibility using a quick online screening tool at the
DHS website or check with your local DHS office.


The asset limit for food stamp units with at least one member who is 60 or older or has a disability is $3,250. For all other units, the asset limit is $2,250. The assets of persons who receive SSI or Transitional Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are not counted at all. In addition, DHS does not count certain assets (called exempt assets) towards the limit.

Exempt assets include burial expenses, the homestead property in which you live and one car. A vehicle needed to transport a physically disabled household member also does not count.


To be eligible for food stamps, you must be a U.S. citizen, or be within one of several specified categories of eligible non-citizens.

Maximum Food Stamp Amounts

As of November 2013, the chart below shows the maximum dollar amount of food stamp benefits your household can receive each month. This amount is based on the number of people in your household, your income and your expenses. You could receive any amount up to or including these amounts. Talk to your caseworker about your needs. These amounts are adjusted yearly.

Number of People in You Household Maximum $ Amount of SNAP Benefits
1 $194
2 $357
3 $511
4 $649
5 $771
6 $925
7 $1,022
8 $1,169
9 $1,315
10 $1,461
Each additional person $146



How to Apply

You can apply for food stamps in person at your local DHS office. You can also get an applicaton on the DHS website and submit it in person or by mail or fax to your local DHS office. You can apply at the DHS website or use their office locator to find a DHS office close to you.

If you are in an emergency situation, you may be eligible for "expedited" food stamps; DHS must then provide food stamps within five days. See the Section of this Handbook titled "
Emergency Help"  for more information.

DHS is required to process your application within 30 days. You are entitled to receive a written decision on your application.

How to Appeal a Denial, Termination or Reduction in Food Stamps

You may file an appeal of any decision to deny, terminate or reduce your food stamps. You can file your appeal in writing or by calling 800-435-0774 (toll free). You may also file an appeal by telling DHS staff, by phone or in person that you want to appeal (this appeal method only applies to food stamp appeals, not to other benefits administered by DHS). Be sure to get some verification of the date you filed. You must file the appeal within 90 days of receiving the notice of decision that you want to appeal.

If you are already receiving food stamps, you must appeal within 10 days of the date of the notice or before the date of change in order to continue receiving the same amount during the appeal. You must also comply with any redetermination applications to establish your ongoing eligibility for food stamps.

After you file the appeal, DHS will hold a pre-appeal conference. You will meet with the caseworker and his/her supervisor. If the denial was due to a mistake or a misunderstanding about the facts, DHS may agree to approve the case or restore your full food stamp amount at this stage. If not, DHS will schedule a fair hearing.

An impartial hearing officer will preside over the hearing. At the hearing, any person of your choice, including an attorney, can represent you, or you can represent yourself. You will have the following rights at the hearing, to:

  • Present your testimony and other witnesses in support of your claim;
  • Present documents that support your case;
  • Examine the records relied on by DHS;
  • Cross-examine other witnesses.

Following the hearing, the hearing officer will issue a written decision, containing his or her findings of fact and conclusions.

Lawsuit for Judicial Review

If the hearing officer rules against you, you may file a lawsuit in the Illinois Circuit Court. You should file this lawsuit no later than 35 days from the date the decision was sent to you. There are several technical rules related to filing such a lawsuit, so be sure to get legal advice in a timely way.

You or your lawyer will have the opportunity to make written and oral arguments in support of your case. The judge will then decide whether DHS and the hearing officer fairly considered the facts and properly applied the law. The judge can approve your claim, deny your claim or remand your case to DHS to be reevaluated in accordance with the judge’s instructions.

Where to go for More Information

Statutes and Regulations

Agencies and Organizations

Illinois Department of Human Services

Food and Nutrition Service,
U.S. Department of Agriculture

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