Difference Between SNAP and WIC Programs

If you are a member of a low-income family, you know that putting food on the table can be difficult.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are federally-funded programs meant to help families like you.

Are WIC and SNAP the Same Thing?

While both WIC and SNAP share the same goal of improving health and nutrition for low-income families, they are ultimately two separate programs.

WIC focuses on pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum women, infants, and children up to age five. Based on their situation, it allows the recipient to get:

  • Breastfeeding education and support
  • Screening referrals to other health, welfare, and social services
  • Nutrition education and counseling
  • Supplemental nutritious foods (chosen based on nutritional value and USDA standards, e.g. cereal, milk, cheese, eggs, juice, beans, peanut butter, and infant formula)
  • A WIC card, similar to a debit or credit card, to purchase food at authorized WIC grocery stores

SNAP, on the other hand, is more generalized for low-income families. Previously known as the food stamps program, it grants a monthly dollar amount on a preloaded Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card for the purchase of food. This monthly amount is predetermined by the total income of the recipient household.

As they are two separate programs, receiving benefits from one program does not bar you from receiving benefits from the other, provided that your household meets eligibility requirements.

Eligibility Requirements for SNAP and WIC

SNAP and WIC have different eligibility requirements, owing to the different target recipients and benefits awarded by each program.

To be considered eligible for SNAP, you must meet the prescribed gross and net income limits for your household size.

This limit may be higher in certain circumstances, such as households with elderly or disabled members. If each member of your household is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or other general assistance, you may be considered “categorically eligible” for SNAP, as you are already eligible for other income-based assistance programs.

To be considered eligible for WIC, you must belong to one of the following categories:

  • Pregnant women
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Non-breastfeeding postpartum women
  • Infants
  • Children

In addition, if you or other members of your household receive benefits such as TANF, Medicaid, or SNAP, you can be automatically considered income-eligible for the program through WIC’s “adjunctive eligibility.”

For more specific information regarding each program’s eligibility requirements, continue reading through the following sections.

Who Qualifies for WIC?

The eligibility requirements for WIC are separated into four requirements, and applicants must meet the criteria for all four to qualify. These requirements are:

  • Categorical
  • Residential
  • Income
  • Nutrition risk

The categorical requirement, as mentioned earlier, serves women, infants, and children. Specifically:

  • Pregnant — During pregnancy and up to six weeks after the birth of an infant or the end of the pregnancy
  • Postpartum — Up to 6 months after the birth of the infant or the end of the pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding — Up to the infant’s first birthday
  • Infants — Up to the infant’s 1st birthday
  • Children — Up to the child’s 5th birthday

The residential requirement means that applicants must presently live in the state in which they apply. They are not required to live in the area for a certain amount of time to meet the residency requirement.

However, if the applicant lives in an area where an Indian Tribal Organization (ITO) administers WIC, they must meet the residency requirements of the ITO. In addition, some states may require applicants to live in a local service area and apply at a WIC clinic for that area.

The income requirement is set by the state agency, between 100 and 185 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As mentioned, if you or other family members qualify for TANF, Medicaid, or SNAP, you are automatically income-eligible. 

Lastly, the nutrition risk requirement involves applicants being examined by a health professional in order to determine whether or not they have certain medical or dietary conditions, such as anemia, being underweight, a history of poor pregnancy outcome, or a poor diet. An applicant must have at least one of the conditions on their state’s list of WIC nutrition risk criteria to qualify.

This examination is typically done for free in the WIC clinic or obtained from the applicant’s physician. The minimum examination procedure involves taking the applicant’s height, weight, and bloodwork.

If you are unsure if you qualify for WIC, try using the online WIC Prescreening Tool before contacting your state agency.

Who Qualifies for SNAP?

The eligibility requirements for SNAP involve income and work requirements for your household.

Households must meet both the gross and net income limits, with some exceptions. A household with elderly or disabled members only has to meet the net income limit, and a household with all members receiving SSI, TANF, or other assistance, is deemed categorically eligible.

The gross income is the household’s total, non-excluded income before deductions. The net income is the gross income minus allowable deductions.

Below are the limits based on household size in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia, between Oct. 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2022.

  • 1 member — $1396 (gross), $1074 (net)
  • 2 members — $1888 (gross), $1452 (net)
  • 3 members — $2379 (gross), $1830 (net)
  • 4 members — $2871 (gross), $2209 (net)
  • 5 members — $3363 (gross), $2587 (net)
  • 6 members — $3855 (gross), $2965 (net)
  • 7 members — $4347 (gross), $3344 (net)
  • 8 members — $4839 (gross), $3722 (net)
  • Each additional member — +$492 (gross), +$379 (net)

Aside from income, applicants aged 16-59 and able to work must also meet general work requirements such as:

  • Registering for work
  • Not voluntarily quitting a job or reducing hours
  • Taking a job if offered one
  • Participating in employment and training programs if they are assigned by the state

Not complying with these requirements can result in disqualification from SNAP after three months. However, some people may not be subject to these requirements under certain conditions.

To learn more about these exemptions, as well as further information on income deductions and countable resources, or the eligibility of students and non-citizens, read through the full list on the SNAP Eligibility requirements page.

WIC and SNAP – How To Apply

Applications for WIC and SNAP are handled by state. Methods vary — some states may offer online applications, others may require in-person or mail applications. In order to find the proper application process for your situation, request information from your state agency directly.

To apply for SNAP, find your state agency on the locator map and either visit their office or website or call their hotline. For those unable to contact their state agency personally, an authorized representative can be designated in writing. Typically, your application will be processed within 30 days.

To apply for WIC, find your state program’s contact information from the contact map to set up an appointment. When you have set an appointment, you will receive instructions regarding the WIC location nearest to your home and what you need to bring with you.

Can I Apply for SNAP if I Have WIC?

Yes, you can apply for SNAP even if you have WIC, and vice versa. Both of these programs are designed to help low-income families and their children meet their nutritional needs and improve their long-term health and economic prospects, thus assistance from one does not prohibit you from the other.

Using both is even encouraged, as the support from a single program might not be enough for your family’s needs.

While there may be a stigma around receiving government-funded assistance, it is important that you do not let shame or embarrassment prevent you from receiving the help you need. You and your family’s health is the utmost priority. If you qualify for SNAP, WIC, or both, don’t hesitate to contact your local state agency.