Applying for Public Assistance Benefits


The process of applying for public assistance varies according to the regulations and requirements of each of the six programs — SNAP (Food Stamps), General Relief, Medicaid, Refugee Assistance, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

What follows, however, is more or less typical of most programs. The department’s Human Services workers receive intensive training to be able to determine a person’s eligibility for each program.

When you apply for SNAP (Food Stamps), Medicaid or a cash assistance payment, such as TANF or General Relief, this is typically what you might expect:

You can apply online - or -

You call or walk in to a Department of Family Services office for information and receive your application and directions for filling it out. No appointment is needed. You will be seen the same day you come into the office. Or, you may call to set up an appointment.

A language interpreter for non-English speaking customers can be provided, if needed. For some programs you may not need a personal interview or the interview may be held over the telephone.

  • You may bring others with you, or, in some cases, send someone in your place.
  • During the interview, the entire application process will be explained to you.
  • You are told of any missing information or documents you’ll need to bring in.
  • Your application is processed beginning on the date the agency receives the information.
  • A Human Services worker determines if you are eligible and notifies you.
  • If eligible, you begin receiving benefits.
  • Periodic reviews of your eligibility are made while you are receiving benefits.

What is SNAP (the Food Stamp Program)?

SNAP (the Food Stamp Program) is a federal program to help people with little or no income buy nutritious food. SNAP (food stamp) benefits are not cash. They come on an electronic card that you use like a bank card to buy food. Most grocery stores take SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

Applying for SNAP (Food Stamps): a typical program

Call or go to the Fairfax County Department of Family Services for an application. You may also apply on line. Applications may be picked up at any Department of Family Services office Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m and 4:30 p.m., or call and ask for one to be sent to you.

Applicants have the right to file an application form on the same day you contact our office during office hours. You may submit your application at any time during office hours.

As part of the SNAP (Food Stamps) application process, you will be required to have an in-office interview, but the interview is not necessary before filing an application. The office interview may be waived and replaced with a telephone interview,under certain hardship conditions.

If resources and income are very low ($100 in resources and $150 in income), or you are a migrant worker, or your combined gross monthly income and resources are less than your family’s shelter expenses, you may be eligible for expedited services. This means you are entitled to receive SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits within 7 days following the date of application.

Your application will be reviewed on the day that it is received for possible eligibility for expedited service

You have the right to file an application even if you appear to be ineligible for the program

You or a designated authorized representative may file an incomplete application as long as it contains a name, address, and signature of a responsible household member or properly designated authorized representative.

All household income and certain financial resources must be verified.

A percentage of earned income is subtracted from the total income to compensate for work expenses.

Maximum allowable housing costs and dependent care expenses are deducted.

Net monthly income is determined based on these deductions.

Net income and number of people in your household determines the amount you receive.

Those who are 60 or over or who receive certain disability payments may be exempt from some of the above requirements.


I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I get SNAP (food stamps) benefits? Can my children?

You may get SNAP (food stamps) benefitsif you are a legal immigrant. Most legal immigrants must wait 5 years before getting SNAP (food stamps) benefits. There is no wait for children under 18, for certain older or disabled adults, or for refugees and asylees. Some may get SNAP (food stamps) benefits if they have enough work history in the U.S. Some may be eligible if they have a military connection. A worker can explain these rules to you when you apply.


If I get SNAP (food stamps) benefits, will I become a “public charge”?

No. You and your family can apply for and receive SNAP (food stamps) benefits without hurting your chances of becoming U.S. citizens.


What personal or family resources are counted?

Resources that are counted include things like bank accounts and cash. Your house does not count as a resource. Most households may have up to $2,000 in resources and still qualify for SNAP (food stamps) benefits. If your household includes a person who is 60 or older, or disabled, you may have up to $3,000 in resources and still qualify.

Example of resources:

  • Cash on hand
  • Stocks and bonds, including U. S. Savings Bonds
  • Money in checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit and/or shared accounts
  • Property, including pleasure craft, such as boats and recreational vehicles. A car or truck counts differently depending on how it is used. The home you own is not included as a resource if you are living in it.


What is counted as income?

Your total income, before taxes or any other subtractions, is called gross income. However, certain subtractions to your gross income, called deductions, are allowed. These can be for things like housing costs, child support payments, monthly medical expenses over $35 for elderly or disabled people, or child-care costs. The amount left over after these deductions is called net income. There are two income limits: gross income and net income. Most households must meet both income limits. If your household has a person who is 60 or older or who is disabled, you only need to meet the net income limit. If everyone in your household receives SSI or TANF, you do not need to meet any income limit. The maximum income limit to qualify for SNAP (Food Stamps) is 130% of the federal poverty level. Examples of income counted are:

  • Gross income from employment
  • Child support payments
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Workers compensation
  • Public assistance payments
  • Pensions
  • Veterans benefits
  • Alimony
  • Dividends
  • Interest and similar payments
  • Retirement or disability benefits
  • Old age, survivor’s or strike benefits
  • Scholarships and educational grants
  • Fellowships and veterans’ educational benefits


What documents do I need to supply?

  • Personal identification: driver’s license, Social Security card, passport, etc.
  • Proof of status, if not born in the United States. Note: Children born in the U.S. may be eligible for SNAP (Food Stamps) even if the parents are not eligible due to their immigration status.
  • Proof that you live in Fairfax County: copy of lease, utility bills, driver’s license, etc.
  • Income: check stubs (for the month prior to the month of application. If income from the previous month is not representative of future wages, verfication of current wages) and/or income tax return
  • Resources: most recent bank statement; car registration
  • Medical expenses: If over 60 years old or receiving certain disability payments, bring copies of bills
  • Rent or mortgage expenses: Lease agreement or mortgage payment, bank statement or cancelled checks
  • Utility expenses: copies of bills
  • Social Security number for each person in the household.


What are my responsibilities while receiving public assistance benefits?

You must always report any changes that could affect your eligibility for the programs you are enrolled in. Generally, these changes must be reported within 10 days. These could be changes in income, expenses, residence, number of people in the home, etc. Also, you must be willing to participate, when required, in Department of Family Services employment programs if you are unemployed or underemployed and able to work.


Other Important Issues:

  • Appeals: You may appeal to Virginia’s State Board of Social Services within 30 days (90 for SNAP (Food Stamps)) of receiving written notification of the local board’s decision to deny, grant, change, or discontinue your benefits.
  • Confidentiality: Information required or collected by the Department of Family Services is confidential and may not be released without your permission except for purposes of administering the programs.
  • Fraud: Anyone who willfully obtains or helps others obtain assistance which they are not entitled to, or receives assistance greater than that which they are entitled to, may be guilty of larceny, and upon conviction, may be punished accordingly.



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Fairfax County Department of Family Services
[ 12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035 ]
[ 703-324-7500 ]

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