Unexpected Items You Can Purchase Using ‘food Stamps’

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a government program that aims to increase food access for low-income Americans. There is often misunderstanding about what SNAP can be used for.

It was formerly (and still is) referred to as “food stamps.” There are the expected items, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy goods, as well as items you may not have imagined you could purchase with SNAP, such as gift baskets and birthday cakes.

Who is eligible for SNAP?

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers SNAP through a worldwide network of local field offices, and a number of variables decide eligibility, so check with your state if you think you could be eligible.

The benefit amount is determined by the family’s income and a few expenses. Some of the changes to SNAP’s eligibility and benefits that were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic are still in effect.

A household’s income must normally be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line, while the poverty line is greater for larger families and lower for smaller ones, according to government regulations.

The household’s net income must be at or below the poverty level, and assets must be insufficient to meet specific criteria. A household without an elderly or disabled member, for example, must have assets of $2,500 or less, but homes with such a member must have assets of $3,750 or less.

Part-time college students are not eligible for SNAP benefits, while certain exceptions are. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits, though some noncitizens are.

Once a month, a household’s allotment is transferred to an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card. The following is a list of which months each state falls on.

Unexpected Items You Can Purchase Using 'food Stamps'

What are the most common purchases made using food stamps?

According to the USDA, SNAP can be used to purchase the following items:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Fish, poultry, and meat
  • Products made from milk
  • Cereals and bread
  • Snacks
  • Plants and seeds that can yield food for the family

Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, and tobacco cannot be purchased with food stamps. Vitamins, medicines, and supplements, including those with Supplemental Facts labeling, are not allowed.

SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase live animals, hot foods at the point of sale, pet food, cleaning goods, or hygiene supplies. The program’s goal is to provide food and nutrition support, which can take numerous forms as you’ll see.

Food stamps can be used to purchase some surprising items.

You now know the essentials of what you can and cannot buy with SNAP, but there’s still some wiggle room. You can’t buy hot coffee with your EBT card at your local deli, but you can buy coffee to make at home, for example. (Tea is the same way.)

Please get to know the Supplemental Facts label we described earlier. Some energy drinks, such as 5-Hour Energy, have one, which means they are not eligible for SNAP benefits. Others, like Rockstar or Red Bull, don’t have that designation, so you can use them.

Gift baskets are also acceptable. You can use your EBT card to purchase a gift basket if at least half of the contents are edible. The non-food component, such as toys, must account for less than half of the purchasing price.

So, while a large stuffed animal with a small tin of chocolates isn’t suitable, a gift basket containing largely food is.

The same logic applies to cakes. Food stamps can be used to purchase a birthday cake as long as the decorations do not exceed 50% of the cake’s value.

While live animals are not on the list of goods you can buy with SNAP, the necessary gear does qualify in some areas where individuals rely on hunting and fishing to feed their families.

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For this reason, Alaska has special laws that allow for higher SNAP benefits in rural areas.

Shellfish, fish that have been removed from the water, and animals that have been butchered before being picked up from the store are significant exceptions to the restriction prohibiting live animals. Lobsters are allowed to be eaten here.

Food stamps are accepted at some establishments in some areas

Alaska isn’t the only state having distinct regional food stamp purchasing allowances. The Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows persons in participating states to use their benefits at restaurants. FNS must approve participating restaurants and they must serve meals at “concessional prices.”

The purpose is to get food for those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly, disabled, or homeless.

RMP, which is now provided in California, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and a few counties in Rhode Island, can help people who don’t have a kitchen, food storage, transportation to a store, or the physical ability to prepare a meal.