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What Can You Buy With EBT Cash Benefits?

Last updated: November 2, 2023

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world in 2020 and people across the U.S. became increasingly food insecure, the number of individuals who participated in the USDA's SNAP program rose to a historic high. The number of SNAP participants in 2022 is over 42 million

With a recent waiver granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some additions have been made to the SNAP benefits. Due to these changes, Meijer, a participating grocery chain, gives 5%-10% discounts and $5-$10 off fruits and vegetables.

SNAP is an evolved version of Food Stamps that is vital for providing food security and supplementing the diets of low-income families with healthy and wholesome food. Additionally, there are benefits program initiatives that focus on job training to assist SNAP beneficiaries to increase their potential for sustainable employment. In contrast to the physical vouchers that served as instruments of the food stamp program, SNAP functions with the help of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards that can be used at (SNAP) participating grocery stores and retailers just like one uses a debit card. Retail stores and convenience stores also accept EBT, making it easier for families to access a variety of living expenses. You might also ask, "what can I buy with EBT cash?" or "what is EBT cash used for?"

SNAP benefits vary from state to state; the average SNAP benefit per individual is $121. If you are a SNAP participant but new to the concept of EBT, you might wonder what you can buy with EBT cash benefits. As with most welfare programs the federal government offers, there are strict restrictions and limits on what you can use the money for. It's worth noting that while non-alcoholic beverages are allowed, alcoholic ones aren't.

Since, under the current SNAP rules, EBT does not cover medical costs, you might want to check out our article about financial assistance to pay off medical bills.

What Are EBT Cash Benefits?

Electronic benefit transfer refers to the system SNAP uses to transfer the case benefits amount each month to the benefit recipient's account. The recipients can then use their EBT cards to transfer their cash benefits to eligible food retailers or grocery accounts in exchange for the food products.

EBT makes dispatching SNAP benefits more efficient by automating the process. At an ATM, EBT cardholders can use a PIN code to access their funds. The PIN ensures the card cannot be misused by anyone other than the SNAP benefit recipient. When a cardholder makes a purchase, the amount is deducted from their account and deposited into the retailer's account.

They can also use their EBT card to order food items online from several stores participating in the pilot program for online purchasing. The pilot program is active in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Someone on SNAP can get free delivery from participating retailers using Instacart on their first three orders of over $35. Amazon offers discounted memberships to EBT participants along with free delivery (except in Alaska).

Difference Between EBT Food Benefits and EBT Cash Benefits

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is a system that allows recipients of government assistance to access benefits using a card similar to a debit card. Within the EBT system, there are two primary types of benefits: Food and Cash. EBT Food Benefits, commonly known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), are specifically allocated for the purchase of eligible food items. These include fresh produce, meats, dairy products, and other essentials. On the other hand, EBT Cash Benefits are more versatile and can be used to purchase a broader range of items, including some non-food products. However, they still come with certain restrictions to ensure the funds are used appropriately. Knowing the difference between these two categories is crucial for beneficiaries to ensure they are compliant with program regulations. Many wonder "what can EBT cash be used for?"

Things You Can And Cannot Buy With EBT

So, what can you buy with EBT cash benefits? The government restricts everything you can and cannot buy with your EBT cash benefits. You can purchase at many places with authorized retailers and grocery stores participating in SNAP to offer discounted food, fruits, and vegetables to SNAP beneficiaries.

Things You Can Buy With EBT

Things You Can Buy With EBT

The following is the list of things you can buy using your EBT card.

Food Items

Food items that are used in the preparation of a meal at home are included under this category. These include fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, fish, milk, yogurt, eggs, cereals, and bread.

Cakes And Gift Baskets

You are entitled to celebrate and enjoy your special days with a cake even if you rely on government assistance due to your financial situation. You must ensure that the decorations are not worth more than half the value of the cake. Gift baskets can also contain food items if they account for more than 50% of the total price.

Plants And Seeds

SNAP beneficiaries can buy plants and seeds to start a garden with their EBT cash benefits to become self-sufficient in green foods. But this specific application of EBT benefits is limited to growing plants, not raising animals.

Some Energy Drinks

Some energy drinks are allowed to be purchased through EBT's cash benefits. Energy drinks must include nutrition facts labels to cut. Otherwise, they don't qualify as food items. Energy drinks that come with supplement information are categorized as vitamins and medicines, so they are not covered by SNAP.


Although the main objective of SNAP is to provide healthy food for a low-income individual or household, you can buy snacks with your EBT cash benefits that may be considered junk food. These include chips, candy, snack crackers, ice cream, and soft drinks. 

Food Enhancements

All items that enhance food taste or help prepare food fall under this category. Food enhancements include spices, ketchup, sauces, sweeteners, and edible oil.

Things You Can't Buy With EBT

Things You Can't Buy With EBT

The following are the goods you cannot buy using your EBT card.


When it comes to alcohol-based products such as wine, beer, or liquor, you must pay for them yourself. Even if these products having alcohol content are being sold at a SNAP participating retailer, SNAP beneficiaries cannot pay for them using their EBT cash benefits. 

Cigarettes/Tobacco Products

You cannot purchase cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, and other products that contain tobacco. This prohibition extends to electronic cigarettes, pipes, vapes, e-liquids, vape cartridges, vape mods, vape juices, and refills. People who violate this rule may face immediate and permanent suspension of their EBT benefits.

Non-Food Items

Food items can only be purchased with EBT cash benefits if used to prepare a meal. That means you cannot purchase any non-food items sold at a participating grocery store, such as cleaning liquids, diapers, toothpaste, baby wipes, household supplies, paper towels, soap, shampoo, cosmetics, and detergent. 

You cannot use EBT cash benefits to pay for rent or utilities, gas, clothing, lottery tickets, transportation costs, or have your laundry done. You can, however, use TANF benefits for these expenses.

Pharmacy Items

SNAP does not cover pharmacy items, including multivitamins, over-the-counter over-the-counter or prescription medicines, or supplements. Some of these items may be covered under the umbrella of Medicare or Medicaid.

Hot Food

Food that is freshly prepared or hot and anything meant for immediate consumption does not qualify as products you can purchase using your EBT benefits. This includes hot beverages such as tea and coffee. 

Canned beverages and packaged foods that are not freshly prepared or cooked are eligible for purchase using EBT cash assistance. The food needs to be prepared earlier and packaged before the purchase.

Pet Food

If you own pets, you must bear the expense of their upkeep. Pet food is not eligible for purchase under EBT cash benefits. You can, however, share the food you purchased for yourself (for example, meat or fish) using your EBT cash benefits with your pet.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are EBT cash benefits and how do they differ from SNAP benefits?

EBT cash benefits, also known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or cash assistance, are a form of financial aid provided by the government to eligible low-income individuals and families. These benefits can be used to purchase a wide range of goods and services. EBT cash benefits differ from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which are specifically intended for the purchase of eligible food items only.

What items can be purchased with EBT cash benefits?

EBT cash benefits can be used to purchase a wide variety of items, including food, clothing, household supplies, and personal care items. You can also use these benefits to pay for utility bills, rent, and other essential expenses. Furthermore, you can use the EBT card for cash withdrawals at approved ATMs. However, some restrictions apply; you cannot use EBT cash benefits to buy alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, firearms, ammunition, or adult entertainment.

Where can I use my EBT cash benefits?

EBT cash benefits can be used at any retailer that accepts EBT cards, including grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, and discount stores. Additionally, you can use your EBT card at participating ATMs to withdraw cash for purchases or bill payments. It's essential to be aware of any fees associated with using your EBT card at ATMs and to ensure that the ATM is part of the approved network to avoid additional charges.

If you are interested in learning more about different grants and programs that can help you with your living situation, read our article on free Christmas assistance for single mothers. Check out the rest of Gov Relations' blog section today!

Imelda Bouchard
Imelda Bouchard is the owner of Gov Relations. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration in Finance​ at the University of Houston-Downtown. Imelda has over a decade of experience working in the finance industry. Following her stint at an international fintech company, she has decided to create a platform where businesses can make use of great business ideas.
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