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CalFresh Eligibility Guidelines

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What is CalFresh?

CalFresh, California’s SNAP or "Food Stamps" program, provides supplemental income for purchasing food to low-income households. An eligible person or family receives an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which is used like any other debit card at the grocery store. The card uses money from a CalFresh account set up for the eligible person or family to pay for food items. (source)

Who is Eligible for CalFresh?

Check out the eligibility criteria below to see if you can get benefits! Still not sure if you'll be approved? Connect with a representative from the Basic Needs Center Office!



According to CalFresh, a "household" is a group of people who regularly buy and eat food together. The people in a household do not have to be related to each other.

  • Households can be as small as one person
  • The same address can have more than one household (i.e., if you are sharing a house with roommates and apply separately OR if there are multiple families in your house)
  • You don’t need to have a home to receive CalFresh (i.e. residing in a shelter facility or automobile)

At least ONE person in your household must have a social security number. This can be a child applying for benefits on behalf of the family.

Your pre-tax income must be less than the amount allowed (see chart)

Use this chart to see if your household’s monthly income, before taxes and other deductions, is under the limit allowed for your household size.

  • Please note the following household types that must apply together:
    • Children under the age of 22 who are living with their biological, adoptive, or stepparent(s)
    • A married couple who lives together
    • An unmarried couple living together with a common child

What if I own a car? You can own a car and still qualify for CalFresh.

What if I have a job? You can have a job and still qualify for CalFresh.

What if I own my home? You can own the home you live in and still qualify for CalFresh.

What if I am homeless? You can qualify for CalFresh even if you do not have a home, address, or place to cook. People without homes can often get benefits within three days.

What if no one in my household is a U.S. citizen? You may still qualify if you or someone in your household has a Green Card, or is a lawful permanent resident (LPR). For additional information see the USDA Food and Nutrition Service policy on Non-Citizen Eligibility at

Can I qualify if I do not have a family? Individuals can qualify for CalFresh. You do not have to have children to qualify.

Can I get CalFresh if I am in the military? If you meet the eligibility requirements you can qualify for CalFresh if you are in the military.

I live with roommates, but we buy separate groceries. Will we be a household of 1 or 2? For CalFresh purposes, a household is defined as an individual, couple, or family that purchases and prepares food together, meets certain income guidelines, and has U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency. If each roommate purchases and prepares food separately, each will be a household of one.

I am 21 and live with my parents; can I apply for CalFresh as my own household? People who must apply together include:

  • A married couple who lives together
  • Children under 22 living with their biological, adoptive, or stepparent(s)
  • An unmarried couple living together with a common child


Students, 18 to 49, attending an institution of higher education, like a college, university, trade school, or technical school more than half-time are eligible for SNAP if they meet an exemption and meet all other SNAP eligibility requirements. You can ask your school what qualifies as “half-time.”

First, what are student exemptions?

COVID-19 Temporary Update:

As of January 16, 2021, a student is exempt if they meet one of the qualifications:

1) They are eligible to participate in state or federally financed work study during the regular school year. Your school determines if you are eligible for work study.


2.) They have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $0 in the current academic year. Students receive an EFC after applying for financial aid.

In addition to the temporary COVID-19 exemptions, students can always meet one of the following exemptions to qualify for SNAP:
  • Are under age 18 or are age 50 or older.
  • Have a physical or mental disability.
  • Work at least 20 hours a week in paid employment.
  • Participate in a state or federally financed work study program.
  • Participate in an on-the-job training program.
  • Care for a child under the age of 6.
  • Care for a child age 6 to 11 and lack the necessary child care enabling them to attend school and work 20 hours a week or participate in work study.
  • Are a single parent enrolled full-time in college and taking care of a child under 12.
  • Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance.
  • Are enrolled in a TANF Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program.
  • Are assigned to, placed in, or self-placed in a college or other institution of higher education through:
    • A SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program;
    • Certain other E&T programs for low-income households, which are operated by a state or local government and have an equivalent component to SNAP E&T;
    • A program under Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA);
    • A Trade Adjustment Assistance Program under Section 236 of the Trade Act of 1974.

Use the chart below to determine if you qualify based on your pre-tax income 

Household Size
Gross Monthly Income
Food Allotment Range (Min-Max benefit range)
1 $2,128 $16 - $234
2 $2,874 $16 - $430
3 $3,620 $16 - $616
4 $4,368 $16 - $782
*Add this amount for each additional member + $748 + $176

You don’t need to go to an office! You can apply online and receive your EBT card in the mail.

The quickest and easiest way to apply for SNAP is online at

If you are eligible, you will be able to access your SNAP benefits no later than 30 days from the date the office received your application. If you have very little or no income for the month and you need help right away, you may qualify for SNAP benefits within seven days.

Use the chart below to find out how much you can get for free groceries every month!

Household Size
Gross Monthly Income
Food Allotment Range (Min-Max benefit range)
1 $2,128 $16 - $234
2 $2,874 $16 - $430
3 $3,620 $16 - $616
4 $4,368 $16 - $782
*Add this amount for each additional member + $748 + $176

What counts as income?

  • Earned income (wages, self-employment)
  • Unearned income, like money/allowances from others
  • Stipends
  • Foster Youth Benefits if student receives money directly
  • Military/Veteran Families; some counted and others not counted as income

What does NOT count as income?

Financial Aid Programs:

  • Pell Grants (BEOG), Cal Grants
  • Federal/state college work study
  • Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
  • Stafford/Perkins loans
  • Educational assistance such as deferred payment loans, private grants or scholarship, if earmarked for allowable educational expenses

Other money sources:

  • Bills paid directly by parents (where the student never handles the money)
  • Personal loans that need to be paid back
  • CalFresh is not considered income and does not affect taxes or financial aid

CalFresh/SNAP benefits can only be used to buy food, and plants and seeds to grow food for your household to eat.

You can use your EBT card to purchase food at any grocery store, farmers’ market, or online website that accepts SNAP like ALDI, Amazon, FoodMaxx, Lucky Supermarkets, Save Mart Supermarkets, and Walmart. Visit to learn more about shopping for groceries online with your SNAP benefits and more.

Use the map on the Providers App to find grocery stores and farmers markets near you.

There are special rules for households with a member who has a disability or is 60 years and older. The rules are complex but help more people qualify for the program.

Due to the complexity of these special rules, we advise folks in this category to contact their county Social Services office for eligibility information.

In addition to meeting net income limits, your household may qualify for CalFresh if you have less than $3,250 in assets and resources.

Examples of resources and assets:

  • Cash – on hand or in the bank
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Money from insurance settlements
  • Personal injury claims
  • Inheritances
  • State tax refund

The following items are NOT counted as resources*:

  • Tax-preferred savings vehicles (Keogh plans, IRAs, pension plans, etc.)
  • The home you live in and household property
  • The household’s personal things and household goods (clothes, furniture, appliances, etc.)
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  • Burial plots
  • Federal tax refund
  • Cars or vehicles of any value
  • Any funds or assets of, or payments to, Native American tribal members

*Additional exceptions may apply to people who are self-employed or victims of domestic violence.

Getting CalFresh will not affect your immigration status, or your chances of getting legal permanent residency in the future. For more information about immigration and public benefits, visit or text the word benefits to 650-376-8006. You’ll be able to use a free immigration screening tool from the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo. You’ll be asked a few general questions and get specific guidance. The tool is anonymous and confidential.

Check out the CalFresh Guide for Immigrants for more in-depth information

A household can get CalFresh if at least one person (including children):

  • Has citizenship
  • Has a green card (for any length of time)
  • Has refugee status, asylum, or parolee status
  • Has, or is applying for, a U-Visa or T-Visa
  • Is an applicant for VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) relief
  • Is a Cuban or Haitian entrant

An individual does not qualify for CalFresh if:

  • They are here on a student, work, or tourist visa
  • They are here under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)
  • They are here under TPS (Temporary Protected Status), unless they meet the other qualifying factors
  • They are undocumented

If you are not eligible because of your immigration status, you can always apply on behalf of other household members, like U.S. born children.

If you don’t see your immigration status here, talk to a local expert on public benefits and immigration. Immigrants who can get CalFresh benefits still need to meet the regular CalFresh income guidelines.


CalFresh benefits are not considered taxable income and will not have an impact on the future of your finances.

1) Start your application: The CalFresh application takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. You will then need to submit proof of information reported on your application.

2) Submit required documents: Submit your proof of identity, income, and citizenship/immigration status within 30 days of applying. More information can be found in the next section.

3) Complete your phone interview: A case worker from the county you applied in will call you within two weeks to complete an eligibility interview.

4) Status of application determined: You will receive approval/denial within 30 days of your initial application submission.

5) Receive your EBT Card: If approved, you will receive your EBT card within 10 days

6) Buy groceries!


In total, it may take up to 40 days from the start of your application to the point where you are able to use your CalFresh benefits.

These documents are usually required to get CalFresh:

  • A copy of your ID.
  • Proof of any income.
  • Proof of immigration status (for non-citizens).
  • Proof of student status (for college students).

These documents are optional but can increase your benefit amount:

  • Proof of housing expenses.
  • Proof of child support paid.
  • Proof of child/dependent care paid.
  • If you are 60+ or disabled, proof of medical expenses.

What if I can’t get the proof?

Tell your case worker during your interview. CalFresh will generally accept a sworn statement as a last resort if you cannot get the documents needed.


You can connect with a representative from the Basic Needs Center Office by emailing or by calling 805-922-6966 ext. 3011.

You can start your application on your own and ask for help with follow-up, as well!

You can also get help through your local food bank, such as The Food Bank of Santa Barbara, or at your local Department of Social Services