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What can I and can’t I buy with food stamps?

The system for distributing food stamps precludes people from spending them on things like cigarettes of alcohol thanks to EBT cards.

Food stamp support for NY residents

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food assistance programme offered by the federal government and it provides financial support for eligible low-income individuals and households. Millions of Americans rely on the support, moreso in a period of economic uncertianty and high inflation.

The system uses Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards which stop recipients from spending their benefits on items like alcohol. Here is a list of some of the things you can and can’t buy with the card.

Things you can buy

  • Household grocery staples like bread, milk, eggs,
  • Plenty of snacks like cakes, pies, crisps, popcorn, ice cream and chocolate,
  • Coffee and tea, unless it is already ready to drink,
  • Seeds and plants,
  • Baby formula, though it may be difficult at this time.
  • Meat, fish and poultry.

Things you can’t buy

  • Supplemental energy drinks,
  • Beer, wine, liquor,
  • Cigarettes, tobacco,
  • Non-grocery items in supermarkets,
  • Diapers and personal hygiene,
  • Pharmacy items like vitamines and medicines, though medicare may cover these costs.

For a full list check out the USDA website.

How you can apply for SNAP benefits

The SNAP program is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service program, but each state has its own application form. It is advised not to call the USDA or the US Health and Human Services headquarters, as only states handle applications and determine eligibility.

Those who are eligible and want to apply for the SNAP program will need to contact their local SNAP office. The USDA provides a useful national map where applicants can find their state’s local office webpage or phone number, most are toll-free, to sign up and get and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

Contact information for local offices can also be found in the telephone book in the state or local government pages. Applicants should look under “Food Stamps,” “Social Services,” “Human Services,” “Public Assistance,” or some other similar title.

More information can be found on the USAgov website, which has links for further food insecurity help.


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