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Applying for SNAP, TANF, and Medical Assistance

You may apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly called Food Stamp Program), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, and medical assistance programs on one application all at the same time. These programs are administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services, also referred to as IDHS or DHS. There is more than one way to apply for all these programs. Here are your options.

Some tips for the application process:

  • Even if you don’t have all of the information you need to complete your application, or there is not enough time, be sure to fill in at least your name, signature, and address to save your date of application. The date you apply will determine the date your benefits will start after your case is processed. The earlier you apply, the sooner you may receive benefits. You should fill out as much of the application as possible, but under the law IDHS must allow you to fill out only your name, signature, and address to preserve the date of your application. You can fill out the rest later. Don’t allow the agency worker (sometimes called "caseworker") to discourage you from doing this. Be aware, however, that the online application is different. Online the date you submit the completed application is the date of your application. An incomplete saved application will not be the date from which benefits are started.
  • If you are homeless and don’t have an address, or if you move around a lot and don’t have a fixed address, use any reliable address where you know you can access your mail daily. This address could be an IDHS office. Missing any correspondence may hurt your case. Be sure that you use an address you trust and have access to frequently.
  • If you are unsure of anything, ask questions! There is no question or detail too unimportant. Don’t be afraid to ask about even the smallest things, even if you are treated poorly. IDHS may not have all the answers, but don’t get discouraged and don’t take no for an answer. You can find more information in the IDHS Policy Manual found online.
  • For many public benefits programs, your eligibility will be determined anew every six months. Start any necessary paperwork or begin to gather documents at least three months before your case is redetermined. This way, you avoid any interruptions in your benefits or services. A redetermination can also occur any time your family situation changes, or you have a loss or gain of income. Sometimes you won’t need to fill out any paperwork, but always be sure to report any changes right away.
  • If you are not eligible for public benefits programs but your child is, and you are questioned about your immigration status anyway, tell the public benefits agency that you are applying for benefits only for your child or children and not yourself. U.S. citizen children are eligible for all benefits. Children who are not U.S. citizens are often eligible for certain benefits even if you are not (see the Special Information for Immigrants section).
  • If you disagree with anything an administrative agency does or fails to do, you may file an appeal. An appeal is your way to challenge a particular decision about your case, such as if you are denied any benefit and you believe you should not have been, or if there is lack of action or the action is not done in a timely manner. You should have legal representation for this process, although you are not required to do so. See the Legal Services section of this guide for information on how to get free or low cost legal help.
  • If you disagree with anything your agency worker has done or he or she was treated you badly, you may file a grievance. A grievance is your way to complain about unprofessional conduct by an agency employee, such as your caseworker is not treating your case fairly or fails to take action. You do not need to have legal representation for this process, but it could be helpful to do so. See the Legal Services section of this guide for information on how to get free or low cost legal help.
  • Public benefits programs and the law can change. These changes may affect your case. The best thing to do is stay informed and seek out the most up-to-date information, stay organized, and follow the tips in this guide to be a good advocate for yourself.
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