Low income families receive monthly food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to buy healthy food. The benefits are loaded onto the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to make shopping convenient.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has strict rules on eligible purchases, limiting the things you can pay for with your EBT card. However, participating households can buy other items beyond meat, cereal, fruits, and vegetables. There’s a long list of little-known USDA-approved items you can buy with SNAP benefits.
If you want to switch things up a bit from the regular food items, here are 12 surprising things you can buy with food stamps.
1. Tea and Coffee
SNAP considers hot foods and beverages at the point of sale ineligible purchases. However, you can spend your SNAP benefits on heated and packaged foods that aren’t intended for on-the-spot consumption. This means you can use food stamps to buy packaged tea and coffee as long as they are not ready to drink at the point of sale.
2. Seeds and Plants
Want to grow your own food? The USDA lets you buy seeds with your food stamp. This important provision allows SNAP recipients to grow produce worth $25. In addition, you can buy food-producing plants or edible plants with SNAP benefits. However, you can’t use your EBT for plants used for decorations.
3. Fishing and Hunting Equipment
If you live in a remote place where you mostly kill what you eat, traveling long distances to buy food at a supermarket might not be the best use of your SNAP funds. For this reason, SNAP allows you to spend your food stamp on fishing and hunting gear, such as knives, fishing lines, hooks, rods, nets, and harpoons. Firearms, ammunition, and explosives don’t make the cut, though.
Keep in mind that this special food stamps provision is particularly designed for some households in rural areas of Alaska. That’s to say you can’t use your EBT card to buy a fishing rod, for example, if you don’t live in a remote area of Alaska.
4. Gift Baskets
There is no telling what anyone can include in a gift basket ― from massage items like bath salts to magazines, beverages, food, and everything in between ― the list is endless. The good news is that you can buy nonfood items with your SNAP benefits if they come in a gift basket, making it one of the surprising things you can buy with food stamps.
However, the purchase must meet certain criteria to be considered eligible. According to the USDA, you can spend your food stamp on a gift basket if the value of food items in the basket is more than 50% of the total price of the entire gift basket.
That’s not all. The basket must not contain cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and other ineligible items.
In other words, at least half of a gift basket should be edible to qualify as an eligible purchase. Think of this as a basic food basket consisting mostly of meat, cereals, and snacks, with additional nonfood items in smaller quantities.
5. Fast Food
Depending on where you live, you may be able to pay for fast food using your EBT card. This is particularly for states participating in the Restaurant Meals Programs (RMP) like California, Arizona, and Michigan. You must qualify for the RMP in a supporting state to use SNAP befits for dine-in restaurant meals.
The USDA has a long list of approved snacks you can buy with food stamps. Some of these include:
- Snack crackers
- Bakery items (muffins, donuts, and bagels)
- Frozen yogurt
This means you can give your family a treat once in a while, thanks to the boost in your food purchasing power.
7. Alcohol-Containing Cooking Ingredients
Cooking ingredients containing alcohol are definitely surprising things you can buy with food stamps, considering the USDA prohibits using SNAP benefits for purchasing alcoholic beverages.
Thanks to USDA’s exception, you can spend your food stamp funds on cooking ingredients and extracts like wine vinegar, vanilla extract, and cooking wine.
8. Live Animals Slaughtered at the Point of Sale
Indeed, you can’t buy live animals with food stamps. This means you can’t walk into a pet store, swipe your EBT card, and go home with a pet hamster or cute puppy. However, the USDA allows SNAP recipients to buy live birds and other animals, provided they are slaughtered at the point of sale. This is the way to go if you’re looking to buy and eat freshly slaughtered animals.
Like live animals, you can’t spend SNAP benefits on fish. But there are exceptions to this rule. Seafood like fish, crabs, clams, lobster, and other shellfish can be purchased with food stamps, provided they are removed from the water before leaving the point of sale.
Remember that seafood can be expensive; you don’t want to spend your SNAP balance on only one food type.
10. Birthday Cakes
Basic birthday cakes make the list of things you can buy with food stamps. You can buy a cake for yourself or someone special, but remember that “basic” means there are no fancy decorations that cost more than the cake itself.
11. Some Energy Drinks
Energy drinks with nutritional facts labels qualify as eligible SNAP benefit purchases. For example, you can swipe your EBT card when paying for Red Bull, Monster Energy, Starbucks Doubleshot, or similar energy drinks. SNAP considers these as food items.
However, you can’t buy any energy drink with a supplemental facts label with SNAP funds because they are considered supplements.
12. Hemp Food Products
Hemp food products are perhaps the most surprising things you can buy with food stamps. You can buy food products containing hemp seed oil, hemp seed protein powder, and hulled hemp seed. The Food and Drug Administration classifies these foods as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), so you can buy them with your SNAP benefit.
To be clear, you can’t use food stamps to purchase CBD, hemp plants, and other cannabis-derived products or controlled substances.