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.

154 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.

    • Five years ago I had food stamps and TANF for me an my 3 kids. I was a full time student with a work study job and I still got my TANF check every month. It depends on the job you have. I still receive food stamps now. I no longer receive TANF. You can only receive TANF for 48 months in your lifetime.

      • TANF is a block of grant money given to the states for welfare programs. The federal government provides 60 months of cash assistance for each state, but each state makes their own requirements. In Michigan, it is two years, total over a lifetime. Every state gives different amounts of straight cash to families, based on family size and ages of children. I once received cash assistance in michigan for about 6 months. My one daughter and I received 400 dollars a month and $360 in food stamps. $400. A month.
        Somehow I made that work for 6 months, along with donations. It was rough.

        FYI, I have a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate. There are just more people out there than there are jobs. I couldn’t get even get hired to mop floors. Definitely an eye opener.

        We need more personal stories out there in the media!

  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.

      • Yes exactly i was gona say thaat, there is a food section on 1 ebt card then a cash section. if u return an item that u bought using ur ebt food they will put the money back in the same ebt food side, they will not hand u over cash. yes u can use ur ebt at a bank and withdraw money but ONLY if u have money on the ebt cash side. the bank machine will know. you prob can change to get cash assistance too, but ud be gambling that they find out ur new cash amount that u make now if u have one like a new job or if u have new cash coming in that u didnt have when u first joined ebt. id say that Could happen but im not sure. but u know how it goes. good luck.

    • Working in retail for 10 years does not make you a valid source of information about the technical configuration of EBT accounts. Not all EBT cards are just “food stamps”. The gov approves some accounts for CASH transactions at ATMs as well. Get OVER yourself.

  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.

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    • 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.

  5. Pingback: Do people using food stamps have to use the Internet instead of case workers? | Poor as Folk

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Pingback: The Ethical and Legal Responsibilities of EBT Recipients | Maine Entitlement Spending

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

    • Hi,Megan.
      It rings up all at once and then the cashier will tell you the cash amount due after your EBT is swiped.

      • 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. I don’t usually buy candy. But wanted a little box as a treat.I couldn’t get some small box of Good and Plenty. But yet can buy a bag of sugar? I am so confused. It was at Walmart in L.B. Ca.. The other stuff I was buying was bananas ,spinach,beans,real grape juice,nuts, bread,applesauce,soups,and got (forgive me) a small box the candy, but it rang up as no can do.. So what gives. I don’t see that on the list here.I am just a disabled 60 widow that wanted a small treat after eating right compared to parents that are always buying kids cereal and soda laced with sugar ..

  17. Hi we just received our food stamps and I’m wondering if i can get like baking products because I love to bake . As what Kathy is asking can I get sugar ? Thanks for your blog its really helpful.

  18. Good afternoon!!! I was wondering if canned goods such as beans and vegetables are also eligible?. Also would frozen fruits and vegetables are eligible? my sister just received her bet for food stamps and we are a lil confused on what items can we also purchase. like rice, orange juice, yogurt, lunchables, evaporated milk things that we would use are they also eligible. Thank you so much in advance for your feedback.

  19. When fast food stores have a posted sign saying they accept EBT are they refering to just the EBT cash cards or all EBT including food cards?

    • I read alot of comments online saying people use their EBT food cards at 7-11 Mcdonalds to purchase prepared foods.
      Not sure how thats possible purchasing ready made,warm food items with the EBT Food card not to be confused with an EBT cash assistance card.
      Two totally different things..

  20. I just recently bought a box of tea with single tea bags within it. At the check out in Fred Meyer it did not let me buy it with my food stamps. Is this a mistake?

    • Definitely sounds like a mistake to me. Although…
      I know if something is listed as a medicinal, it might not go through. At the store we shop at, there’s essential oils in the cooking aisle that go through w/ SNAP but if you pick up those same oils in the Nature’s Market section, they’re marked as medicinal & can’t.

      • Same happened to me. apparently if its put in as supplemental instead of nutritional facts it is not covered by snap that goes for energy drinks two energy drinks and have Supplement facts are no longer covered

      • Thank you much for this article. Its highly humiliating paying for things on food stamps because of those behind you inline and their judgement. Often I will use cash because of the shame that’s out there. I read a comment from a woman who claimed her boyfriends daughter(you taught her well mom) said him and His kids deserve to eat steak and lobster for dinner and that’s what he spent his fod stamps on for five kids. You only get so much a month, and if that’s ow he spends that’s him. I have low iron and once a month my body craves BEEF. Lol. Ladies you can relate. Most of my food stamps are spent on stocking my house with staples like butter milk potatoes. I make everything from scratch. Its expensive. I swear if I didn’t have good stamps(which people do not understand its to supplement not be your whole source of food purchase) I would be obese malnourished eating boxed meals…but I digressed from original question…
        Please..do tell..what store I can go to where essential oils are in food section. I must know as I rely heavily on them for my families health. What stores have these in food aisle. Also..I was once able to buy bee pollen on food stamps at health food store. FYI.

    • I bought a couple boxes of tea (bags) at sprouts and I was surprised that it went through, I had my bank card out ready to pay the remaining balance but nothing else was due. I thought it was a mistake but i just went with it.

  21. I live in indiana, and as far as I know, my mom was never on SNAP, she makes too much money. But she still had the same EBT card for her child support payments, because she had to go through the courts to get it.

  22. i used to be able to buy baking soda at the supermarket and now i cant? does anyone else know if this policy has changed or is it only in Rhode Island?

  23. I have seen people buy booze with EBT Cash asistance before. I am a cashier at a grocery store I’m here to tell you those memes are not false. I’ve gotten my supervisores involved and all I got from them is it’s their money they can buy booze if they want. I just don’t know where to report this abuse.

  24. For those of you wondering. If you are looking to buy energy drinks, if the back says “Nutrition information” it can be bought with ebt but if it says ” Suppliment Information” it cannot be bought. Also, most but not all stores have those rotisserie chicken’s that they sell hot but if you want one wait till that night and they take them and let them cool down and after the cooked food (soups, meats, etc) are cool, theY can then be purchased with ebt. At least that is what they do where I live in Arizona.

  25. Can I buy herbs like calendula and oak gall? Does anyone know who accepts ebt for these products, if so? I’m in Anaheim

  26. Wonderful blog. I am 56 years old and applied for a link card for the first time in my life. I was bankrupted by the out of pocket expenses for cancer. wiped out m life sang of about 30K. Husband has Juvenile Diabetes and the cost for insulin, needles and test strips. My contact at DHS was so helpful and kind. We need the card for food, we (as most) are NOT eligible for any cash benefits. since I just got started today with my card, the information you gave me here was a huge help. The consequences for misusing the card are substantial, so I doubt anyone has ever seen anyone buying booze and tobacco with a link card

  27. I currently got approved for Cash assistance and food stamps this month. I live in NJ and I have 2 kids which I get no child support for. I lost my job a month ago. Now I’m looking to move to NC I think living is more affordable there. so I was wondering if the assistance just transfers over??? Cuz obviously I can’t use my NJ EBT card in NC…. Or would I just have to go through the whole process again like I did here and wait for a few months to see if i qualify there???

      • Different states do have different policies on how you apply for benefits. After your move to NC, go to the local office of whatever County that you end up living in and apply for SNAP/EBT benefits there. After giving your information, they will be able to tell you immediately if you qualify for any benefits or not. Or at least that was how it was when I applied for SNAP benefits. I knew before leaving the office that day that I qualified, and the amount of benefits that I qualified for. Good luck on the move, and hope all goes well for you there in NC.

  28. Natalie, I live in NC and just got my ebt card today. I’m not sure if its transferred. I would contact your SS office and let them . however, if you do have to reapply in NC apply online at epass nc website. I was approved in two days and my card came in a week which I’m grateful for as my husband and I lost our jobs and just needed a little help while we continue to look for jobs

  29. Pingback: Steak, Junk Food to be Removed from Food Stamp Program - Page 16

  30. Hi, I am diagnosed w/ bi polar disorder and I to the contrary of the stereotype live a pretty healthy life……I get the Winco store day old prepared salads for $1.59 each a big old salad with chicken or meat shredded cheese and bacon bits/I also buy the cans of mandarin oranges for $.86 cents each and put them in the fridge for awhile…..i make my own iced tea from $1 store
    boxed tea 80 ct for $1/w/ $1 non sugar sub 100 ct…..
    I quit smoking about 2 years ago but do smoke an ecig that i buy all my supplies from china for 1 dime on the dollar of usa prices…….basically im trying to say that not everybody buys the idea that “theres bad people out there abusing the system”
    i ride my bicycle daily carrying it 17 steps down to the first level looking for money on the ground or whatever and back up the 17 steps when i get back…..i get snap but i use it wisely …
    being mentally ill presents alot of challenges…..Im not afraid of work/just making it thru the week is interesting!! thanks…

  31. I do like the blog. Actually never been on assistance other than help with school, but did struggle greatly for years raising kids on my own. I don’t begrudge anyone the assistance. It’s a tougher world today than it was when I did it. I just heard “scuttle butt” that this person bought starbucks coffee with their EBT card and this other person bought their ecig juice with their EBT card and thought I would google it.
    A little advice for those young moms out there struggling…..Know that there are a lot of people who respect you and know that you work hard to keep it all together. And, know that your hard will pay off with loved and balanced kids and a true sense of accomplishment.

  32. Hi I was wondering if anyone knew if I could buy essential oils with food stamps ? I know coconut oil grape seed oil and avacado oil I can

  33. So to the people that follow people around after they just happen to “casually observe” how people use the money they receive from the state….are you seriously attempting to say you don’t happen to fall under the category of stalker? I mean really! who are you to have a say in how people spend money they receive? I am a firm believer in minding your own business because guess what it is none of your business. I have not personally used these services and granted I may not think that certain items purchased qualify as a necessity but a comment doesn’t need to be made about it such as some of your snide remarks when guess what if you were minding your own business, which is typically taught to most people at an early age, it wouldn’t bother you would it. I fortunately do not need this assistance the same as the ones making negative comments directed towards those that do. The fact that you are fortunate and do not need this assistance doesn’t qualify you to announce your opinion that is not warranted in the first place. I’m sure there are comments and remarks that would be directed towards you in regards to certain areas in your life. Now run along and mind your own business and if this task is too difficult at least give everyone the benefit of not having to listen to your snide remarks no one gives a shi* about in the beginning. Really you should be ashamed for putting your nose where it doesn’t belong because you are not going to change anything are you??? No…no your not. Good glad you agree whether or not you acknowledge it or not

  34. I just got my EBT card today and I was wondering if anyone knows if frozen things like burger patties or burritos can be bought because the Washington EBT food list doesn’t have anything saying you can’t buy frozen foods, but it also doesn’t have anything saying you can.

  35. I am amazed reading all the posts here that we as Americans have to rely on something we never before had to do, as I just applied for food-stamps up in Maine.
    I am so stressed out, 65 yrs. old can’t find a job, spent all my retirement and savings and now living this way when back in 2010 I was making a good salary and owned a home, now broke.
    I was wondering if EBT or Quest as it’s called here, you can buy herbal teas like Passionflower, Lavender oil, herbs for stress relief.?

  36. In Wisconsin I am allowed to buy soda , candy,chips etc with EBT but when I tried to buy a natural/organic box of tea bags is was not allowed. Tell me again how they are trying to get people who use EBT to eat healthy.

  37. It hard enough to have to except that I need the help. Please come up to me and say something to me when I’m buying something for my family. I would really like to hear your opinion on what I have in my cart.

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