What Can & Can’t Be Bought With Food Stamps & An EBT Card

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Infographic source unknown. Someone sent it to me from Pinterest.

This infographic is a good rough guide to what you can and can’t buy with SNAP.

I have a huge gripe with the way some states or counties in  parts of the U.S. work with their clients.  The most frequent search terms on my other blog where I started blogging about SNAP is questions about what people can buy with their food stamps.

This should be a caseworker’s job, not a blogger on the Internet. I am very happy to provide the information but from what I understand ,there are food stamp recipients who never even see a caseworker or the only info they’re given about purchasing things is ,”You can’t buy cigarettes and alcohol.” Well, no duh.

Based on my most frequent search queries, here is a list of things people wondered about that you CAN buy with food stamps:

  • baking soda
  • vinegar, all kinds
  • coconut oil
  • any cooking oil,including olive oil
  • seeds …EXCEPT sunflower seeds, unless they are packaged and ready to eat.
  • plants that produce food and potted herbs

Here are specific items you CANNOT buy:

  • toilet paper
  • shampoo
  • tampons or pads
  • deodorant
  • tooth paste
  • diapers, cloth or disposable
  • bakery goods
  • cooking utensils or small kitchen appliances
  • pots and pans
  • dishes

Yes, it’s totally true that you CAN buy bows and arrows in Alaska but not live animals. Like lobster. You can’t buy a live lobster to cook…or chickens ,if you were to want to raise them yourself.

Since we’re talking about what can and can’t be bought using an EBT card, I want to clear up some things for those who are misinformed.

This is what my EBT card looks like. All inconspicuous, not announcing that ,”I get benefits!” or anything.

Nobody is given paper food stamps anymore. Everyone who receives food stamp benefits gets a card. An EBT card. Electronic Benefits Transfer card.  It works like a debit card.

EBT cards are also given to people who receive cash welfare benefits. Some people who get food stamps also receive cash benefits but just to clear up a misconception... it’s very hard to get cash assistance . Because of the Work to Welfare program and other reformation of the system,  once someone is approved for cash assistance, they must either enroll in school or job training, or prove that they are job searching, unless they are disabled. Most states have a limited time or a cash cap limit that you can receive while looking for a job. They will also place people in jobs, basically at a just above minimum wage rate for as many hours as comparable to the amount of cash assistance they get.  If they don’t go to work or school, they lose the assistance. Once they’re earning money, they also lose the cash assistance. It’s a temporary assistance program, which is why it’s called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It’s that simple.

In some states, the EBT card cannot be used at a register in a store for non-food stamp items. The recipient has to go to an ATM or a store office and withdrawl cash.  In some states, it can be used right at the register, which I’m guessing is causing confusion to nosy people who stand in line behind other people in line, checking out what kind of card it being used to pay for groceries.

Also, it’s important to put out there : Some states put a single mother’s child support money into the account attached to their EBT card if she’s also eligible for food stamps.  So, the state isn’t being the baby-daddy there. The actual contributor of DNA paid his child support and that’s how the state is giving her that money.

All those stupid memes online about beer,tattoos,cigarettes being bought with EBT….
I’m not going to say that no one buys those things with their cash benefits but if you pay attention to how those ridiculous things are worded, they are completely fabricated . “Today I saw a woman in line paying w/ food stamps blahblahblah…IPHONEblahblahblahLEXUSblahblahPOTATOCHIPSANDSODA!”
No, you didn’t. You want people to get riled up and start a shit storm on your page or tumblr.

97% of the time, I guarantee it.

Or I’m only person in the store,minding my own business and thinking about the stuff in my own cart. If someone has time to cart judge, they need a constructive hobby. Go volunteer and the local food bank or something.

48 thoughts on “What Can & Can’t Be Bought With Food Stamps & An EBT Card

    • hate to tell you guys, but you CAN buy from a bakery. ALL items in the bakery in fact. you just cant buy hot food( like the rotisserie chickens at a shopnsave.). but you can buy their donuts, cakes, muffins, breads, etc. i dont agree with it, but i have food stamps and the wife has me get a couple donuts for the kids everytime we shop. and sometimes we’ve bought birthday cakes with it. a stand alone bakery is what your talking about. and the only reason you cant use foodstamps in a stand alone bakery, is that those places are usually mom and pop, and they dont offer ebt services. but they can if they want to.

      • Thank you for the good information I just found this sight as I am tired of hearing those
        ridiculous remarks “I saw someone buying cigarettes with their food stamps” haven’t had the stamps in ages. Yes some things are not fair, i,e, a needy family that can’t p/u a cooked chicken from the grocery store and take home to eat is ridiculous, while they can purchase
        cookies & candy. I, thank God, have never used these programs, but I do not judge people that have to. There will always be cheaters who will abuse anything & everything. If you know someone that is guilty of this, report them – not lump everyone together.

  1. Wow! Where has your blog been hiding? I cannot believe I didn’t find it sooner. The little bit that I have read so far is great. I have struggled for years as a (low-income)single mom and rarely find anyone in real life to listen/understand.

  2. I’ve been working retail for more than 10 years, and I most certainly have seen a lot of people use their EBT card at an ATM and then turn around and use that cash to buy alcohol, tobacco and lottery. The cash assistance needs to be fixed. People should not be allowed to withdraw cash from an ATM.

    • Marcus….BUT just because you see someone withdraw cash from an ATM w/ EBT doesn’t mean it’s any of your business to go find out what they spend that cash on.
      Need to point out to Melanie here,too…. withdrawing cash from the ATM is how bills are paid… rent, electric,gas,etc

    • For those of us who use those benefits for things like electricity bills, car insurance, gas, rent, etc… how are we supposed to access that money (which I then deposit into my checking account in order to pay said bills) if not by withdrawing it from an ATM? Is there another option available that I don’t know about?

      • you can do cash back on a purchase. or just pay your bill with the card. most places will take it. like phone companies and power bills

    • So you Say you have been in retail for more than 10 years? And by being in retail you see people use EBT at the ATM? Where is the connection between the two. Are you in retail selling ATM machines? I mean how does that work. How do you know that the person is not getting her child support off the card? How do you know when she goes into the place of retail business that you supposedly are in that she is using cash from an ATM using an EBT card. It almost appears that there is a little stalking going on. Wait, does that get you upset and angry, me saying you are stalking? Well, you making some blanket statement about people using EBT without knowing not the first certainty angers a lot more people. You forgot to say one more thing. They bought lobster, ten cases of beer, called their drug buddy using their Obamaphone (which is actually a Clinton/Bushphone), all just to set off mass anger. I just do not understand people and why they would want to breed so much hatred, racism, and prejudice. That is just beyond me.

    • youre right. there are people that abuse the system. but that percentage is sooooooo small. we are literally talking like less than 1 % of tanf recipients.

    • Melanie did you actually see what was purchased or just hear about it. The EBT cards can only use ATM for cash if approved on the card. Not everyone has access to the ATM’s.

  3. Meh. There’s rich bastards that get tons of corporate welfare and government money. I’d like to freeze their accounts and make them pay for everything with vouchers.

    • You can, indeed, buy energy drinks in arizona. Only red bull, and monster at Fry’s Food and Drug. If you have a Quikmart like we do in Tucson, you can pretty much buy whatever food you want- as long as it’s not hot, not alcohol or tobacco. Everything else -including energy drinks- are up for game.

    • You should be able to. Sometimes it won’t ring up as SNAP eligible if the grocery store has it listed as an herbal supplement but if it’s categorized as a food additive., then should be fine.

  4. Hi. Cool blog [or whatever this joint is.] I just stumbled across you folks, and I have to say it: I want to be like Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. WHO’S WITH ME?!!!!!! I need a few days to poke around this place, but so far, it is very noble and intriguing. and…because I am a broke old man, figured I might step on this rock for a while, til the waters rushing past me takes me on my next intellectual journey.

  5. In California you cannot get cash from any ATMs, however you can go to certain markets/grocery stores and certain Banks to get cash out of your EBT cards.

  6. In Florida, child support is usually transferred to your EBT card, though a friend of mine had two separate cards (one for EBT & another purely for child support).
    Now, I don’t want to perpetuate any kind of “Welfare queen” stereotype, but yes. When my sister-in-law got her child support on her EBT card she would usually draw out all the cash at once & spend it on alcohol & other things (her own clothes, etc.)
    BUT that is a problem with the child support system, not a direct problem with food stamps/EBT. Her food stamps were not what she bought that alcohol with, & people should realize that.

  7. I haven’t gotten my card yet, but I was wondering. Do I have to separate my items, pay for the food items with the ebt card, then have the cashier ring up the rest and pay otherwise? Or does it all ring up at once, and the ebt card minuses the cost of the food items?

      • At the end, it should ask you to select payment option. At ours, it will have both EBT-cash and EBT-food stamps as options. After selecting the EBT option, it will make adjustments and pay for all the FS eligible stuff w/ the EBT and then tell you the cash amount due.

  8. Great blog. As a single-mother of one, without the help of child support and a full time student in college, not to mention I also have a job as an administrative assistant; I am fortunate to get some help from the government. I do hate the stereotype that comes along with it….While I do understand that some people do take advantage of the system….some of us just really need short term assistance.

    • And Cristy you should have it, without anyone stereotyping you. Hope you will soon be on your feet and standing alone.

  9. Nice blog. I’ve gone from a two income (great paying jobs) family to one job that pays mud. My husband with a degree has been working labor pool while he searches for a better job. I haven’t received my card, but am grateful for the help. I love to cook and am very creative, so my short term benefits will go a long way. I appreciate the non critical approach to this subject. It’s been a very difficult few years for us.

  10. With havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation?
    My site has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself
    or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement.
    Do you know any methods to help stop content from being stolen?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.

    • Making infographic to go with your posts with your url helps to at least make sure you’re getting credit. If you’re writing content on the web, the only way to make sure it’s not being taken w/out crediting you is pretty much to format it as an ebook and monetize it.

  11. this is such a great blog. i just got approved for ebt so i was confused on what i couldn’t or could get. Thanks!

  12. Very useful. I am 19 and unfortunately already have to use the food stamp system (no I’m not a single mother or anything like that) and wasn’t very sure on what I could purchase. My case worker didn’t even tell me what I could buy.

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