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What Can You Use The EBT For?

Written by: Jody Adams
Last updated: January 31, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2019 has unfolded into a historical emergency, with millions of Americans pushed below the poverty line. The lockdowns, shuttering of small businesses, layoffs, and reduced work hours that followed the pandemic created economic distress and decreased the food security of the average American household. Most of these lower and middle-class families were previously dependent on government assistance, whereas others felt the need for it for the first time. The hardest hit were the elderly, who were already vulnerable to food insecurity. 

According to some post-pandemic studies, a whopping 13% of the U.S. population, or 14.5 million people, were SNAP beneficiaries in 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act makes it easier for low-income households and individuals to receive SNAP benefits. To learn how you can take advantage of the EBT, find out what SNAP is, what you can buy with an EBT card and more.  

What Is SNAP?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (previously, food stamps), is the leading program to fight hunger in the United States. The highest benefits were received by the residents of Minnesota ($366), the lowest by the residents of Idaho ($162), and the average benefit amount stood at $218 per individual.

SNAP was created to provide nutritional support in the form of supplementary cash benefits to low-income families so that they become self-sufficient when purchasing healthy food. By definition, SNAP does not cover non-food items or food items that are not meant for human consumption. 

What Can You Buy With EBT Card?

What Can You Buy With EBT Card

The recipients of SNAP benefits can use Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to receive cash benefits and utilize them to make purchases. SNAP beneficiaries can now buy different items aside from the standard groceries. What can you buy with EBT? The following are the items SNAP beneficiaries can purchase:

Staple Foods

Staple foods constitute most of the food products you can easily find at supermarkets or grocery stores. These include fruits, vegetables, meats, milk, sauces, cheese, yogurt, fish, bread, eggs, and cereal. These foods may be fresh or packaged (frozen/canned).

Accessory Foods

Accessory foods include the items that go into the preparation and consumption of food at home. These include spices, seasonings, ketchup, mustard, oils, and sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, and cane sugar. Baked items, chips, ice cream, cakes, desserts, and certain beverages that can complement your food are also accessory foods. 

Seeds And Plants

Here’s some good news for people who have a green thumb and want to build a small garden. They may use their EBT to follow their gardening pursuits. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds and small plants, which makes it more economical than buying greens from grocery stores.

Coffee And Tea 

SNAP benefits via EBT can be used to purchase packaged coffee and tea, but not the ready-to-drink type, since, under the USDA guidelines, SNAP benefits through EBT cannot be used to purchase hot beverages.

Restaurant Meals

The purchase of dine-in meals at restaurants is prohibited under SNAP. However, certain SNAP beneficiaries can get meals from restaurants that offer concessionary meals if they qualify for the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) and their state participates in the program. This exception is available to the elderly (over 60), the homeless, and disabled people who cannot prepare their own meals. California, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and some Rhode Island counties participate in the RMP program.

Items You Cannot Purchase With EBT

Items You Cannot Purchase With EBT

The following items cannot be purchased using EBT cards since SNAP does not cover them:

Hot Meals

Hot meals are not eligible for purchase through EBT cards, as SNAP only covers foods that can be prepared at home. This automatically eliminates food items such as fried chicken, pizza, and hot beverages. However, foods that are cold and meant for consumption at home qualify for SNAP purchases.

Live Chicken

SNAP prohibits the purchase of live animals. EBT cannot be used to purchase live chickens to keep in your yard, nor can you use it to buy eggs from which chickens can hatch.

Nutritional Supplemental Drinks

Drinks labeled as nutritional supplements, such as water, soda, lemonade, iced tea, fruit and vegetable juices, and energy drinks, are not eligible for purchase through EBT.


Alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and liquor cannot be bought with EBT, even if they are sold at grocery stores.

Pet Food

Pet food cannot be bought under the SNAP rules. However, if you feed your pets the same food you consume (fish or chicken), you may use your SNAP benefits. 

Nicotine And Tobacco Products

Cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, vapes, vape juices, and cigars cannot be purchased using EBT.

Pharmacy Items

Prescription drugs, medicines, supplements, and vitamins are also not covered by EBT under SNAP.

Personal Care Items

SNAP does not cover essential personal care items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, diapers, mouthwash, and makeup items since these items are not classified as food.  

If you are interested in learning more about different grants and programs, read our article on how to get free money from government hardship grants

Jody Adams
Jody Adams is an accomplished editor-in-chief with a deep understanding of social care and government benefits issues. With a background in journalism and a master's degree in Public Policy, Jody has spent her career shaping the narrative around social policies and their impact on society. She has worked with renowned publications, effectively bridging the gap between complex policy analysis and public understanding. Jody's editorial expertise ensures that vital information on social care and government benefits reaches a broad audience, empowering individuals to make informed decisions.
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