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Can you buy alcohol with food stamps?

Can you buy alcohol with food stamps?

Can you buy alcohol with food stamps? In a word: no. This article provides information about items that you cannot buy with food stamps, and why they are prohibited. We also explain what could happen if you try to purchase alcohol or another EBT ineligible item with food stamps. Finally, we share some important resources for anyone who is struggling with alcohol use and needs some help that won’t break the bank. 


Can you buy alcohol with food stamps?

The bottom line? It is not legal to purchase alcohol with food stamps. It is also illegal to purchase tobacco products, vitamins and over-the-counter medications, live animals, prepared foods, and any non-food household items (like toilet paper, paper towels, and laundry detergent) using food stamps.

In addition to the prohibition against using food stamps to purchase alcohol, your EBT card cannot be used to withdraw cash (from your TANF benefits, if you have them) from ATMs located at liquor stores, casinos, racetracks, and adult entertainment establishments because they sell alcohol and other prohibited products and services like lottery tickets and tobacco. 

That said, the cash you withdraw from authorized locations cannot necessarily be traced to your actual purchase. TANF/cash, once withdrawn from an ATM can typically be used to purchase anything, even if it is not technically legal. 

Why can’t you buy alcohol with food stamps?

The purchase of alcohol using food stamps has been prohibited since the program was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Why? Many lawmakers and voters believe that it is wasteful to use taxpayer money on items that are harmful to peoples’ health, or items that are not necessities. 


Others view these restrictions as paternalistic and insulting to low income individuals and families who are more than capable of making smart choices, and who deserve some occasional enjoyment just like everyone else. Further, for those affected by an addiction to alcohol, losing access to it can lead to dangerous – even fatal – withdrawal symptoms. 

Whichever side you fall on, the fact of the matter is that it is not legal to purchase alcohol with food stamps. Food stamps (aka SNAP) were created to help low income families obtain nutritious food. Additionally, the program was designed to give an economic boost to the agricultural industry. 

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What happens if you try to buy alcohol with food stamps?

In most locations, like large grocery stores, WalMart, Target, Sam’s Club, and other such establishments, items like alcohol and other SNAP ineligible items will be separated out automatically by the store’s electronic barcode reader. In these cases, attempting to purchase alcohol with an EBT card would simply result in the transaction being declined.  

In smaller establishments, like bodegas and mom-and-pop grocery stores, the SNAP ineligible items are often sorted out manually by the clerk. Although a transaction might not be declined in these cases by an electronic barcode reader, the business can face severe penalties for allowing customers to use SNAP to purchase alcohol and other prohibited items. In fact, they can even lose the privilege of accepting EBT as a form of payment or incur fines. This can be a major financial blow to a small business. 

Further, if the agency in your state issuing SNAP benefits became aware that you used SNAP to purchase alcohol, you could have your benefits revoked. 

So, can you buy alcohol with food stamps? No, and the answer is unlikely to change. If you receive food stamps and like to enjoy an occasional drink, you will have to use your own extra cash to purchase it. If you are someone who struggles with alcohol use and would like to find out how to cut down on alcohol use on a budget, check out Low Income Relief’s article on how to quit drinking and stay motivated.

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