Surprising things you can buy with food stamps

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Formerly known as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is America’s largest hunger relief initiative. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAP provided food security for approximately 41.5 million people in 2021, with an average benefit of $218.14 per person.

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Recipients use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to receive funds and make purchases, and they can use these cards to buy more than just standard groceries. Here’s a look at some of the more unusual things SNAP will pay for.

Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

Energy Drinks – Some, At Least

You can use SNAP funds to purchase energy drinks, but only if they meet strict USDA standards. If the energy drink has a “nutritional facts” label, it makes the cut, according to New York SNAP EBT. If it has an “additional facts” label, it is considered a supplement and cannot be purchased with EBT. This means Red Bull, Rockstar and Starbucks Double Shot are up to snuff, but not 5 Hour Energy, Bang Shot and Tweaker.

Feyyaz Alacam / Shutterstock.com

Feyyaz Alacam / Shutterstock.com

Coffee and tea – the kind you make yourself

You can use SNAP to buy packaged coffee – not to mention creamer – and that includes Keurig-style K-cups. However, you cannot buy ready-to-drink coffee. If you’re thinking of making your own coffee at home and switching to tea when you go out, that won’t work either. Tea is also limited to packaged, non-infused products, as the USDA does not allow SNAP funds to be used to purchase hot beverages.

CSNafzger / Shutterstock.com

CSNafzger / Shutterstock.com

Hunting and fishing equipment – but you have to live far, far there

Even if you live in a rural area and kill what you eat, you can’t just swipe your EBT card to buy a new fiberglass rod from Bass Pro stores – but hunting and fishing gear is eligible for SNAP for a very specific and very small population. According to the USDA, some residents of the more remote areas of Alaska depend almost exclusively on hunting and fishing to feed their households due to the extreme difficulty in purchasing food from stores.

The Alaska Department of Health and Human Services issues eligible households with special identification cards. They cannot buy weapons and ammunition, but they can buy things like nets, rods, harpoons, lines and knives.

hababapa / iStock.com

hababapa / iStock.com

Restaurant dining — for certain people in certain locations

You cannot use SNAP to pay for restaurant meals unless you qualify for the SNAP Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) and live in a participating state. RMP serves vulnerable populations such as seniors, homeless people and people with disabilities.

Participating restaurants must offer meals at “discounted prices” to eligible diners.

Although not as limited as Alaska’s subsistence hunting program, very few states participate in the RMP. It is available throughout California, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as select counties in Rhode Island.

Good question: Does KFC accept SNAP EBT cards?

Kyselova Inna / Shutterstock.com

Kyselova Inna / Shutterstock.com

Seeds and plants

The USDA allows SNAP recipients to purchase edible plants like basil or food plants like tomato plants with their EBT cards, as well as seeds to grow their own food. The USDA says you can grow $25 worth of produce for every dollar spent on seed and fertilizer, but Modern Farmer says this important inclusion is one of the lesser-known parts of the entire SNAP program.

You can use your EBT card to get seeds and plants at any SNAP-authorized retailer, including farmers markets.

walmart.com

walmart.com

Gift Baskets — Depending on what’s inside

The USDA lets you spend SNAP funds on gift baskets and similar purchases as long as at least half of what’s inside is edible. Even if they contain qualifying edibles, non-food items such as toys, stockings, and cans don’t count if “the value of the non-food portion of the item is clearly more than 50% of the price purchase,” according to the USDA. . The agency gives the example of a teddy bear accompanied by a small packet of chocolate: it won’t count. A gift basket containing mainly meat and cheese would however be acceptable.

Stephanie Botkin / Shutterstock.com

Stephanie Botkin / Shutterstock.com

live lobster

Like tobacco, alcohol, vitamins, and medications, live animals are on the USDA’s list of items you cannot buy with SNAP benefits. There are, however, a few rare exceptions, including shellfish, “fish removed from water” and “animals slaughtered before being picked up from the store”.

This means that while you can’t use your EBT card to buy a puppy from a pet store, you can use SNAP to buy a lobster to take home to meet its doom on your kitchen stove.

donttree_m/Getty Images/iStockphoto

donttree_m/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Snacks of all kinds

Most people are probably aware that SNAP recipients can use their EBT cards to buy basic foods such as meat, milk, eggs, vegetables and bread, but what is not as well known, this is the long list of snacks that are on the USDA approved list. It includes everything from marshmallows and marzipan to pudding and popsicles.

Cakes, pies, donuts, muffins, pastries, and all kinds of other doughy, flaky things make the list, as do fries, chips, popcorn, and finger foods of all kinds. Ice cream, candy, chocolate, custard, scones, churros and more all get a USDA pass – in fact, if a kid can dream it up, chances are that SNAP will pay for it.

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About Chris C. Hairston

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