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



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.

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

    • Maybe more “yes and no” than flat out yes. In my state, they only carry forward for 90 days. The short term carry over really helps when you want to make a $$ purchase (e.g. to take advantage of economies of scale, like buying 3L of olive oil or when something big but affordable is on sale, like whole pork loins((if that’s your thing)). The trouble is you have to starve for a little, or otherwise have an unplannable event like a hospitalisation, that results in having anything left over. I think the time-out is in there to prevent those whose circumstances have changed on a more stable basis from continuing to receive benefits. I also don’t know if it’s applicable in every state.

      • Ah. I assumed it wa the same everywhere. Good to know.
        I think we’ve only had it happen once that we had any carry over at all and I think that was because they had backdated our recertification so we had a balance higher than usual. Otherwise… there’s usually nothing to carry over.

  1. I appreciate and loved it,informative and straight to the point. I especially loved the part about “cart judging”. I’ve seen it many times as well as people who didn’t even come with you, standing right up on you (obviously having no sense of the term “personal space” or “privacy”) just to see tour method of payment. Ugh! I feel if someone is that interested in how I’m paying for my goods,by all means,you foot the bill! Lol……thanks again.

  2. I work in a small grocery/convenience store that accepts EBT. About 90% of the purchases made are energy drinks, pop, candy, ice cream, and chips. It is very rare that I see real food being purchased. I am very sad to say that my views have changed dramatically and I now have very little faith in this system.

    • If it’s a convenience store, does it have real food even? I know all the shops like that in my area are overpriced and have limited variety. People don’t usually go actual grocery shopping at places like that. They grab snacks there. So, of course you’ll see 90% of EBT purchases spent on those things because that’s what most people buy there

    • And were you expecting them to buy milk and eggs there? Moreover, your comment relative to “real food” is obnoxious. All the items you specify are most certainly “real food.” If you have a complaint it is that the items you saw purchased were not “economical foodstuffs.” In general I agree. Ironically, if they had been buying what you deem “real food” they would remain subject to the same criticism you feign offer up. Only a dummy would buy staples and milk at a convenience store. Hence your complaint is based upon multiple informal fallacies of logic. More to the point, people often purchase snack foods because they are pushed for time. Where else would they go but a convenience store, Dairy Queen doesn’t accept SNAP benefits. You may have the luxury of your mom cooking you a nice wholesome hot meal for lunch, but many another do not enjoy such a convenience.

      At its heart your comment is an intimation that everybody who uses SNAP benefits is just wasting it at the expense of better people (like yourself). That is most certainly not true! Your failing is common to people as a whole, but a failing nevertheless. You resent other people’s use of SNAP benefits so you single out the most bizarre instances of that use and employ it to generalize about all users. It’s the same method employed in the service of tort “reform” and many another public issue. Someone spills hot coffee on themselves and wins damages from McDonald’s. There is thereafter a public outcry for restricted access to the court by people who weren’t in the courtroom and don’t know the suit’s backstory. Your reasoning isn’t self-serving, it’s self-satisfying and self-aggrandizing.

      If you genuinely want to see how people use their SNAP benefits then wander the aisles of a real grocery store. When you see people buying store brands and avoiding all meat purchases except carne molida in three pound sticks then you can reasonably identify them as likely recipients. When they pick up a small fresh vegetable of fruit, look at the price and then put it back then you might be looking at a recipient. If your groceries are spilling out the top of the basket, but there’s has small load of highly economically foodstuffs in bulk purchase packaging then you might be looking at a recipient.

      I’m very sad to say that your views are based upon vanity and grounded in false information.

      • Greg Valentine, I applaud you. Thank you, for saying what has needed to be said for some time now. I tire of seeing the same overused, whiny complaints on sites regarding food stamp recipients. It’s the purse they carry, their shoes are too nice, nails are done, car is too expensive, yadda yadda. Never considering for a second that perhaps this person wasn’t always in need, or perhaps they purchased the clothes, shoes, purses, etc, at a thrift store, or maybe they were gifted.

        It all comes down to a need to judge, to label, to pick at another person in order to elevate themselves. It does stem from vanity, and it’s a vulgar display of it, at that. Sadly, it is all too common, and it speaks volumes as to the state of the world these days.

        The best thing this old rock could do is shake a few of ’em off.

        Take care.

    • I am not sure but I’m guessing no. I know that any place that also sells food will (like Walmart). I can’t find a single garden/home improvement shop in my area that will accept SNAP for seeds/plants but the farmer’s market and grocery store does.

  3. I live in sc and I just got approved for snap benefits and I went to the grocery store and was gonna buy a sub and some chips till later on today but the register wouldn’t let me pay for the chips with my EBT card. So I was wondering can you buy chips with EBT

  4. can I buy canned soup, canned tuna, etc. with ebt card? also is specific reporting of purchased items required on a monthly basis?

  5. I went to pizza parlor that advertised accepting EBT cards but when I went to pay was told their register didn’t take the cards is this legal?

    • Did they mean they take cash payments from EBT or SNAP on EBT, I wonder? A lot of places with say they accept EBT but they mean for TANF recipients. Unless you live in a state that allows certain restaurants to accept SNAP, it probably just meant for TANF.

    • Places like that only allow you to purchase cold foods like subs/sandwiches, chips, and beverages. No place allows hot/prepared foods on Ebt.
      We have a deli, that when I was receiving them, I would treat my kids to occasionally and we would get a couple sandwiches or salads, chips, drinks, and something sweet. So it is sometimes the stores discretion.

      • I had to do a bit of research, but I’ve found that if the label on the back says ‘Nutrition Information’, you’re good to go, but if it says ‘Supplement Information’, you cannot purchase it with food stamps. Just check the label and you’re golden.

  6. I was wondering if you can buy the traditional mothers milk tea with food stamps. I read you can’t buy vitamins with it or suppliments but I have bought pediasure with food stamps and the traditional mothers milk tea is located where the regular tea bags are located. Can it be purchased with food stamps?

    • Sorry it took so long to reply! This comment was buried. I know that I have bought it before with food stamps. I cant remember what brand it was but if it has “Nutritional Information” on the box, it’s eligible. Things labeled as a supplement arent

  7. I work at a grocery store and am responsible for the point of sale and the one thing that you might want to add is that items that have a Supplement Facts chart instead of Nutrition Facts are not eligible. Seems straight forward but some boxed teas and meal replacement drinks choose to market them selves as Supplements rather then food but stores still stock them in the food isles, just fyi

  8. I Thank you for your effort in writing this post. You are straight forward. I love your passion and non judgement attitude. I am receiving food stamps and cash assistant for two Grandchildren in my care and it is not easy to feel eyes in the back of your head in the grocery store when you are paying and they are looking at how your kids are dresses and if your hair is done etc. Most people do not have the knowledge of home the system works and think it is a handout. I worked and paid in, now I need help. I get a lot of comments on face book in general with people saying get a job. They are ignorant and need to go to a food kitchen and help out and maybe get an attitude adjustment and compassion for mankind. Thanks for listening you are terrific.

    • Yes, a lot of people think you shouldn’t get SNAP benefits unless you dress out of the rag barrel and sleep in an abandoned car. I live a very frugal lifestyle. As a consequence, I dress better and have a more prosperous lifestyle than many another with significantly greater resources. I manage my money tightly. Truth is, more than a few who actually dress out of the rag barrel have more money than I, they just waste there’s on foolishness and nonsense. When I had a heart attack and open heart surgery and couldn’t work anymore I stopped giving a tinker’s dam what people thought. If they don’t like it they can tell someone who cares.

  9. Thank you so much for being so informative. The difference between the nutritional and supplemental labels is a great guide.

  10. Good info on here. I wondered if I would be able to buy an herb plant (most grocery stores now sell live Basil, Mint, etc, plants) and it seems that I can. It seems like a no-brainer: buy a small bunch of basil for $2.99 or buy a large, live basil plant for $4.29 (Publix). And the live plant will keep growing and providing leaves at no additional cost! Sometimes it’s the little things that make your day…🙂

  11. For those restaurants and fast food locations that advertise accepting EBT, it’s mostly for recipients that are approved for a special meal program because they don’t have access to a kitchen to prepare meals. You can use your EBT if you have a balance on your Cash side and pay by swiping and entering your pin.
    Some places however accept EBT as a grocery item since it is not cooked and served hot. Many Subway sandwich locations accept EBT, as well as take and bake pizza such as Pappa Murphy’s here in Northern California as long as it us not served hot.

  12. Thank you! This is very informative and I wish my case worker had provided this info when I got my EBT card/SNAP benefits. Bravo to you– and also, very good job with the fallacious fellow further up the thread.🙂

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