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34. Income limits

The Food Stamp Program has two income tests: gross and net monthly income limits. [7 U.S.C. § 2014; 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(a); MPP §§ 63-409.11, 63-503.321(a)(QR).] Food stamp rules exclude some money from being counted as income to the household. (For more details about treatment of income, generally, see the section about the definition of income.)

Gross monthly income

Alert: California state regulation MPP § 63-503.323(QR) provides that all households members must be elderly or disabled in order to be exempt from the gross income test. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has acknowledged that this is incorrect and plans to issue a clean-up regulation packet soon.

Households that do not include any elderly or disabled household members must meet the gross income eligibility standard, which is 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.9(a), 273.10(e)(2)(i)(B); MPP § 63-503.326(QR).]

If the food stamp household has any members who are elderly or disabled, they have no gross income test. They get to pass go, directly to “net income.”

If a person over 60 with a permanent disability (SSI standard) wants to be a separate household, but cannot buy/prepare food separately, they may nonetheless be separate if the other household members qualify under a higher “165% of poverty” gross income limit. The rules about applying the higher gross income limit are confusing, so be sure to read the section about the gross monthly income standards for households where an “elderly” or “disabled” member is a separate household. (Then take two aspirin and call us in the morning.)

“Gross monthly income” is the household’s income before any allowable deductions. Gross income includes gross pay from work before the employer takes out taxes, union dues, and other deductions. The pay stub should have the gross income on it.

The food stamp office will first look to see if the household’s gross monthly income is below the applicable 130% limit (where there is no one in the household who is elderly or disabled) or 165% limit (where there is an elderly or disabled member of the household). If the household’s income is below the gross monthly income limit, then the food stamp office will then look at the household’s net income.

Net monthly income

The net income of a household — i.e., income after all allowable deductions under the food stamp rules have been subtracted — must be below the Food Stamp Program’s net income eligibility standard. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.9(a)(2), 273.10(e)(1)(i); MPP §§ 63-503.322(a)(QR), 63-505.323.] (The net income limit is 100% of poverty.) If the household’s net monthly income is more than the net income limit, the household cannot get food stamps. (See the sections about child support payments made by a household member to someone not in the household and calculating income for related explanations of how to calculate net income.)