Unexpected Things You Can Buy With Food Stamps
The Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal initiative designed to help low-income Americans access more food. Formerly (and still casually) known as the “Food Stamps” program, there is often confusion about what can be used to buy with SNAP. There are things you would expect such as fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products; but there are also things that you may not have known you could use a SNAP purchase, such as gift baskets and birthday cakes.
Who is eligible for SNAP?
SNAP is administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) using a nationwide network of local field offices and eligibility is determined by several factors , so check with your state if you think you may qualify for the program. The amount of the family allowance depends on the family income and certain expenses. Some changes to SNAP eligibility and benefits that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic are also still in effect.
Under federal rules, household income is generally required to be at or below 130% of the poverty line, although the poverty rate is higher for large families and lower for small ones. The household’s net income must also be at or below the poverty line, and assets must also be below certain limits. For example, a household that does not have an elderly or disabled member must have assets of $2,500 or less, while a household that has such a member must have assets of $3,750 or less.
Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits, although some non-citizens may be eligible, and part-time college students are not eligible, although, again, there are certain exceptions.
The household allocation is usually credited to the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card once a month. Here is a list of the days of the month that occur in each state.
What do people usually buy with food stamps?
According to the USDA, SNAP can buy the following types of goods:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Milk products
- Bread and cereals
- Seeds and plants that can produce food for the household
Food stamps cannot be used to buy beer, wine, spirits, cigarettes, or tobacco. They cannot be used for vitamins, medicines, or nutritional supplements, including items labeled “Additional Facts”. Live animals, point-of-sale hot foods, pet food, cleaning products, and hygiene items also cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits. The purpose of the program is to provide food and nutritional assistance, although as you will see, this can take many forms.
Amazing things you can buy with food stamps
You already know the basics of what can and can’t be purchased with SNAP, but there’s room for wiggle room here. You can’t buy hot coffee from a local grocery store with an EBT card, but you can buy coffee to brew at home, for example. (The same goes for tea.)
Check out the “Additional Facts” label we mentioned. Some energy drinks, like 5 Hour Energy, have one, which means you can’t buy them through SNAP. However, others, such as Rockstar or Red Bull, do not have such markings, which means that you can …
Gift baskets also count . If at least half of the content of the gift basket is edible, you can collect it using your EBT card. The value of the non-food item, such as toys, must be less than 50% of the purchase price. So a big plush animal that comes with a small box of chocolates doesn’t work, but a gift basket that contains mostly food does.
The same applies to cakes. You can get a birthday cake with food stamps, as long as the decorations don’t make up more than 50% of the cost of the cake.
Although live animals are not on the list of items you can purchase through SNAP, in some areas where people rely on hunting and fishing to feed their households, the necessary equipment is eligible . Alaska has special rules that allow you to receive higher SNAP benefits in rural areas for this very purpose.
There are notable exceptions to this rule for live animals as well: you can get shellfish, fish pulled out of the water, and animals that were slaughtered before they were picked up from the store. Lobsters are fair game here.
Some places allow you to use food stamps at restaurants.
Alaska is not the only place with special regional allowances for the purchase of food stamps. SNAP has a Restaurant Meal Program (RMP) that allows residents of participating states to enjoy restaurant benefits. Participating establishments must be authorized by the FNS and offer meals at “preferential prices”.
The goal here is to deliver food to vulnerable people, such as the elderly, disabled or homeless. Someone who doesn’t have a kitchen, storage space, transportation to the store, or the physical ability to prepare a meal can use the RMP, which is currently available in California, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and several counties in Rhode Island.