What Can You Buy with Food Stamps?
Since the introduction of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) what you can buy with food stamps has actually expanded. In the past, households were relegated to prepackaged foods, produced by companies that qualified for government subsidiaries by providing certain foods for low income families. Since the switch to a debit card system and a shift in legislation, there is a much more varied selection of products that food stamp participants can buy.
What You CAN Buy
Typical food-type groceries are at the top of the list for items food stamp households can purchase. This means bread, cereal, fruit, vegetables, meat (including beef, poultry, and fish), and dairy products. During the recent change is the law, Congress added a provision allowing seeds and plants for vegetable gardens to be purchased using these benefit vouchers.
Some states and cities allow restaurants to take the new food stamps debit card in return for cheap meals, which is very different from the old stamps system. In the past, the general qualification for food stamps food meant that it had to be purchased, taken home, and cooked. With the availability of low-cost meals from many restaurants, the definition of appropriate purchases also had to be expanded.
What you CANNOT Buy
It should go without saying that beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes and tobacco are absolutely exempt from the food stamps program. They do not qualify as “food” and definitely do not fall under the “Nutrition” category of the new SNAP system.
Other items like soap, cleaning supplies, paper products, and pet food do not qualify for the program. Neither does medicine, nor as the USDA website says, “food that will be eaten in the store,” and “hot foods.” What that means varies from store to store and from state to state. In general, the old rule still applies for food bought from grocery stores: it should be purchased, taken home, and cooked there.
Junk Food and Other
Junk food, including soda, candy, cookies, crackers, and even ice cream do fall under the acceptable food category, because they are, after all, food. “Luxury” food items, like crab, lobster, clams, expensive cuts of steak, and even cakes purchased from eligible bakeries also qualify, but obviously, since food stamps work just like money, are not the most prudent purchase, as they are more expensive and do not feed as many people.
Energy drinks qualify as long as their nutrition labels list actual nutrition information and do not call their products “supplements.” Supplements fall into the same category as vitamins and medicines.
Though, like it state above, participants can by plants and seeds for a garden, they cannot buy live animals with food stamps.
When passing the SNAP legislation, a motion was made to restrict the kinds of junk and “luxury” food items that would be eligible for the program, but Congress found it would be too costly and ineffective to do so.