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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.In contrast to the physical vouchers that serve 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.
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.
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).
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
The following is the list of things you can buy using your EBT card.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!