Can you buy vitamins with EBT? Although most sources will tell you no, the actual answer is a bit more nuanced and complicated than you might expect. You can’t buy vitamins themselves but you can buy vitamin-enriched products that are classified as food.
What is EBT?
EBT stands for Electronic Benefit Transfer. It’s the method that the government uses to pay benefits to people who receive cash benefits through TANF or food benefits through SNAP. Most people who receive EBT benefits actually receive food benefits, not cash benefits.
If you receive those benefits, you’ll be given an EBT card that you can use like a debit card. At checkout, you’ll be able to select whether you want to use cash or food benefits. Both programs have restrictions about what you can buy and food benefits are more restrictive than cash benefits.
Can you buy vitamins with EBT?
If you receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits, you’ve probably wondered if you can buy vitamins and nutritional supplements with your benefits. It can be really hard to afford healthy food on a food stamps budget, so it’s natural that people would want to purchase healthy vitamins and supplements to compensate for that.
Unfortunately, the USDA has stated that “households cannot use SNAP benefits to buy vitamins, medicines and supplements.” Specifically, the USDA says that any item that has a Supplement Facts label is not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits because it is considered a supplement and not a food item.
If you’re frustrated about being unable to buy vitamins with EBT, don’t lose hope yet. Although you can’t buy vitamins themselves, you can purchase vitamin-enriched food products like meal replacement shakes, superfood smoothie blends, and others that can deliver the vitamins you need. Sometimes, vitamin drinks like Emergen-C may also be marked EBT eligible by certain retailers.
SNAP Program Rules
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is designed to help low income Americans purchase food for their families. It is a federal program, run by the United States government, and is therefore available in every state. The SNAP program feeds approximately 9.5 million families per year.
The program sends benefits on EBT cards and the benefits can only be used for qualifying purchases. If you go to checkout with eligible and ineligible items, the EBT card will only cover eligible items. You will have to pay for the ineligible items with another payment method.
Because of that, it’s very important to understand what is and isn’t eligible to be purchased with EBT.
What can you buy with EBT?
EBT cards can be used to purchase any food for the household that is not specifically excluded from the program. For example, you can purchase:
- Produce (fruits, vegetables, etc) in any form
- Dairy products
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Cereals and grains
- Plants and seeds
Basically, the program can be used to purchase any staple food. It can also be used for most junk food items, such as soda and chips. If the product has a nutrition facts label, it’s generally possible to buy it on food stamps.
What can’t you buy with EBT?
On the other hand, SNAP funds cannot be used to purchase non-food items. The specifics can get complicated, but in general you are not allowed to buy:
- Live animals (except for fish and shellfish)
- Products that are not meant to be eaten by humans
Most of these are obviously not food items. However, some energy drinks and other things that you may generally consider food have a supplement facts label. Items with supplement facts labels are not eligible. Since most vitamins have a supplement facts label, it means you usually can’t buy vitamins with EBT.
The rules may vary depending on your location.
There are some parts of the Food Stamps Act that may vary depending on where you live. For example, the Restaurant Meals Program is something that the federal government has authorized but only a few states have implemented. As a result, only certain people in certain areas can buy restaurant meals with their EBT cards.
For more information on how EBT works in your area, check out this EBT guide.
Supplement Facts vs. Nutrition Facts
Nutrition facts are used to describe the nutritional content, calories and serving size of a food product. Most food items are subject to FDA regulations, which help ensure public safety by making food producers adhere to food safety and labeling requirements.
Items with supplement facts labels are not subject to the same rules and requirements. There are still rules and policies that they have to follow but they are different because the FDA does not consider the product to be a food item.
As we discovered with protein powder and energy drinks, sometimes very similar products can have different labels. It really depends on the intention of the manufacturer and how the product is marketed.
Basically, an easy way to determine if a product is eligible for purchase with EBT is to check the label on the product. If it’s a Nutrition Facts label, you can usually buy it. If it has a Supplement Facts label, you definitely can’t.
Look for vitamins with a Nutrition Facts label.
Like most people, I assumed that you just couldn’t buy vitamins with EBT when I started researching this. After all, that’s what the USDA says!
However, I found that there are many vitamin products that have a Nutrition Facts label. For example, I’ve seen Emergen-C vitamin drinks on Amazon that could be purchased with EBT. It does appear that they are no longer eligible on Amazon, though.
However, you may be able to buy vitamin-enriched food products like these:
- Protein powder
- Meal replacement shakes
- Superfood snacks
- Energy bars
FAQs about Buying Vitamins with EBT
We’ve been asked a lot of questions about buying vitamins with EBT. Here are some of the most common questions we’ve been asked.
Can you buy Flintstone vitamins with food stamps?
Unfortunately, no. Flintstones vitamins have a supplement facts and not a nutrition facts label, so they are not eligible for purchase with EBT.
Can you buy prenatal vitamins with EBT?
Prenatal vitamins are unfortunately not eligible for purchase with EBT. However, if you are pregnant and in need of prenatal vitamins, please contact your local health department for assistance. You may also be eligible for WIC, which can help supply you with nutritious food.
Will I ever be able to buy vitamins with EBT?
Maybe! Since 2019, lawmakers and advocacy groups have been pushing to get vitamins accepted into the food stamps program. However, as of 2022, no such changes have been made yet and you still can’t buy vitamins with EBT.