Understanding the Differences Between SNAP and WIC

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are both government-based nutrition programs that aim to assist low-income households in purchasing groceries and maintaining balanced diets. While SNAP and WIC can be highly beneficial for families, both programs have distinct differences. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net, covering most households that need food assistance. WIC is a special kind of government food assistance program that strives to provide pregnant women, infants and young children with the most basic nutrition they need to maintain healthy lifestyles. The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com wants candidates to understand that while both are separate programs, certain applicants may qualify for both assistance programs.

Learn About the WIC Program

The WIC program provides the basics for candidates that qualify, such as eggs, milk, bread and formula. WIC does not have many requirements and is generally easy to access. FamilyNutritionInfo.com found that the WIC program does not require candidates to prove that they are U.S. citizens or documented immigrants in order to qualify for benefits. Recipients of the WIC program receive a book of vouchers for specific foods which they can only use at certain stores. WIC varies by each state, due to each individual state having to negotiate with food manufacturers to determine what foods are included in the program. While the WIC program can be incredibly helpful for recipients, the food selection can feel very limited, which is why many families receive help from both SNAP and WIC.

To receive WIC benefits, applicants must meet these requirements:

  1. Belong to one of the following categories:
  • Women that are pregnant (during pregnancy and up to six weeks after the infant’s birth or the end of a pregnancy)
  • Women that are breastfeeding (up to an infant’s first birthday)
  • Postpartum women (up to six months after the birth of the infant or the end of the pregnancy)
  • Infants
  • Children under the age of 5
  1. Residential requirements:
  • Applicants must apply for the WIC program in the state in which they reside
  • Applicants are not required to reside in a state or local service area for a certain amount of time to be eligible for the WIC program
  • Some applicants may have to apply at a WIC clinic that serves the area
  1. Income requirements:
  • Applicants must have incomes at or below an income level or standard set, determined by the state in which they reside
  • Some applicants can be accepted automatically by other income-eligibility programs from which they receive benefits
  1. Nutrition risk:
  • Applicants must be seen by medical professionals that will determine whether the individuals are nutrition risks; this process can also be done in the WIC clinic, for free
  • ‘Nutrition risk’ means an applicant has a medical-based or a dietary-based condition, such as being underweight, having a poor diet, anemia and/or history of a poor pregnancy outcome
Learn About the SNAP Program

The main goal of SNAP food assistance is to aid recipients in maintaining healthy diets by making food items such as proteins, vegetables and fruit more accessible. SNAP offers recipients a more comprehensive assistance program, which is why SNAP demands a longer application process and more eligibility requirements in comparison to WIC. The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com found that SNAP gives recipients more freedom with their food selection, and gives an allocated amount of money to a recipient to spend. SNAP recipients pay for food with an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card accessed through a PIN number, similar to a debit card.  The card automatically deducts from the household’s food spending allotment, and benefits are replenished monthly. To receive SNAP benefits, applicants must be U.S. citizens or have lived in the U.S. legally for five years. The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com has compiled more of the eligibility requirements below.

SNAP benefits applicants must meet these eligibility requirements:

  1. Applicant resources:
  • Households can have $2,250 in countable resources, such as a bank account, or $3,250 in countable resources if at least one person is over 60 years of age or is disabled
  • Every state has different rules for counting certain resources; make sure to verify what is considered required counted resources with your specific state SNAP program
  1. Income:
  • Households must meet income tests, unless all members are acquiring any of the following government programs: TANF, SSI or general assistance
  • Gross income means a household’s total income before any deductions are made; SNAP net and gross income limits vary by state
  1. Deductions that can be made:
  • Deductions are made to a gross income to determine a net income
  • A 20 percent deduction should be reduced from earned income
  • A standard deduction of $157 for household sizes of one to three people, and $168 for a household of four
  • Legally owed child support payments can be deducted
  • Medical expenses for elderly or disabled people that are more than $35 for the month, if they are not paid by insurance or a family member
  • A dependent care deduction can be taken when it is needed for work, training or education
  • Deducting the cost of water, fuel to cook with, electricity, one basic telephone, rent or mortgage payments and taxes on the home
  • Some states permit homeless households to deduct a set amount for shelter costs
  1. Employment requirements:
  • Applicants must meet employment requirements to receive SNAP benefits
  • Applicants are required to register for work, taking any job if offered, not voluntarily quitting a job, not reducing work hours and participating in employment and training opportunities provided by the state
  • Able-bodied adults without dependents are required to participate in a work program for a minimum of 20 hours per week, or work at any job to receive benefits for more than 90 days
  • Certain groups are exempt from this requirement, such as children, pregnant women, seniors and those with a physical or a mental health disability
  1. Special rules for the disabled or elderly:
  • A person is considered elderly if over the age of 60
  • Generally, a person is considered disabled for SNAP purposes if he or she receives federal disability or blindness payments under the Social Security Act, which includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security disability or blindness payments
  • A veteran who is totally disabled, in need of constant assistance or is permanently housebound
  • A surviving spouse or child of a veteran who is receiving VA benefits and is considered to be permanently disabled
  • A person who receives a disability retirement benefit from a government agency
  • A person who receives an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act and is eligible for Medicare
  1. Immigrant eligibility requirements:
  • The 2002 Farm Bill restores SNAP eligibility to most legal immigrants that have lived in the country for five years, are receiving disability-related assistance or benefits or are children under the age of 18
  • Some noncitizens that were admitted into the country for a humanitarian reason and for permanent residence may also be eligible for the program
  • Eligible household members can receive SNAP benefits even if other members of the household were not eligible
  • Noncitizens that are in the U.S. temporarily are not eligible.
Understanding WIC vs. SNAP

It’s clear to deduce that the requirements for SNAP are much more extensive than the requirements for the WIC program. SNAP is generally a good option to have as an overall safety net that will enable applicants to have a wider array of food selection that is easy to purchase. The WIC program is geared specifically for women, infants and children, and can be added support for individuals who may already be receiving benefits from the SNAP program. Both programs offer great benefits for those seeking food assistance, and the team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com urges candidates to research the state specific requirements for both programs and decide which is a better fit for their needs – SNAP, WIC, or even both.