What Can You Buy with Food Stamps?
As the name (or nickname) implies, SNAP benefits are really designed to offer financial aid to purchase essential food items. Essential food items are, of course, whatever the government determines to be necessary for a well-balanced and healthy dietary lifestyle. But that’s all in theory; in practice, there’s not a lot of regulation or enforcement about what is an essential food item or what is not. It’s somewhat subjective.
Therefore, felons or anyone receiving SNAP benefits may use their cards for quite a wide range of products, but predominantly for: breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, most types of meat, fish, or chicken, and most dairy products. SNAP can, in some places, even be used in restaurants!
SNAP benefits are clearly not designed to allow for the purchase of things like alcohol or cigarettes, nor can be be used for buying foods for animals, such as pet food. SNAP benefits also can’t be used for non-food items like toiletries or cleaning supplies.
They also cannot be used for medications, supplements, or vitamins. When in doubt, a simple rule of thumb is, ‘Can I eat this, and was it made for human consumption?’ I know that’s not all-inclusive, but a bit of common sense goes a long way…and naturally grocery store clerks are familiar with the rules and can assist during the purchase process.
We’ve talked about what can and can’t be bought, and frankly this is a touchy subject for a lot of taxpayers who do not fully understand SNAP policies. So we want to repeat that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using SNAP benefits; but in some cases users take advantage of the system, creating a stigma that should have never existed.
But let’s get back to what can and cannot be bought with SNAP. As mentioned earlier, there’s a wide range of food items available, and not all would be deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘essential.’ Not by a long shot!
Certain items which beneficiaries can buy are considered either junk food or luxury foods, but the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 is quite clear about what is allowable. If it’s allowed by law, then eligible recipients should obviously feel comfortable buying said items without worry.
For instance, ‘soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items.’ Many ‘luxury’ foods may also be bought, like steak or seafood, but of course the users must realize they are burning up their benefits faster when buying such items.
The fact is, these junk or luxury types of foods are only authorized simply because studies had shown that it was too costly and burdensome to determine and manage a long list of exempted foods. In other words, ‘luxury’ foods are allowed because no one wanted to spend the time or money to figure out which foods should be considered ‘luxury.’ But again, the law allows it, so carry on!
Quick side note: oddly, most hot foods or foods meant to be eaten on-site are often not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. This seems illogical to me, but nobody asked my opinion when they wrote the policy…