Food Stamps FAQ: Everything You Need to Know

(Last Updated On: October 2, 2019)

At Low Income Relief, we answer a lot of questions about EBT cards and the Food Stamps Program. We’ve also showed you how to get hundreds of freebies and deals with your EBT card, so be sure to check out this post too!

We’ve decided to assemble some of the most frequently asked questions into this FAQ. I hope it helps – and if you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please let us know in the comments!

When will we get food stamps?!

This is easily the question we receive most often.

When will I get my food stamps card?

Your food stamps card should arrive within 30 days of the date your application was filed. If you are very low income and qualified for expedited benefits, you should receive your card and first disbursement within seven days of your application.

When will I get more money on my food stamps card?

Each state sets its own schedule and sometimes they change. You can find the most recent disbursement schedule right here.

What can we buy with food stamps?!

Most people have no idea that they can buy with their benefits!

Can I buy food at restaurants with my food stamps card?

The answer is complicated. Usually, you cannot do this… but some states offer a Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) for disabled, elderly and homeless people who cannot make their own meals at home. In these states, eligible food stamps users can purchase hot food at certain approved restaurants. We have a list here.

Can I buy ice with my food stamps card?

Yes! You can buy both crushed and block ice with your benefits.

Can I buy bottled water with my food stamps card?

Yes! Bottled water is an eligible purchase.

How can I tell what food items are eligible?

Generally, eligible foods have a nutrition facts label. Certain items, like teas and energy drinks, may have a supplement facts label. Items with supplement facts labels are not eligible for purchase.

Can I buy cooking wines and flavor extracts?

Although cooking wines and flavor extracts have some alcohol content, they are not considered alcoholic beverages. You can purchase cooking wine, wine vinegar and extracts with your SNAP card.

Can I buy seeds, plants, or fruit trees?

Yes! You can use your EBT card to purchase seeds, plants and trees that produce food for human consumption. This includes herbs and spices used in cooking.

Can I buy hot food?

No, you cannot buy food that is hot at the point-of-sale. Many prepared foods, including hot sandwiches or hot chicken, are not eligible for purchase.

However, some users have found that they can purchase some items (such as pizzas) cold and then pay an extra fee to have them cooked on-site. You can read more about that in our EBT discount series.

Can I buy diapers and wipes with food stamps?

No, these are not food items. However, some of our users have found success in using these smart shopping techniques to buy diapers and wipes with the rewards from their grocery shopping!

Can I buy formula or baby food?

Yes! These are items intended for consumption by a member of your household. You can purchase baby food, infant formula, cereals, juices and other foods.

Can I use EBT for groceries that are delivered to my home?

You may be able to pay for the groceries with your EBT card, but you will not be able to pay for the delivery fees that way. You will need an alternate payment method for any fees.

Will my bag fee be covered by food stamps?

Many areas are charging bag fees for plastic and paper bags. This extra fee is technically a tax, so it cannot be paid with your SNAP funds.

Where can we use food stamps?!

You may be surprised by the answers!

Can I use my food stamps at the farmer’s market?

Yes! You can purchase food at any retailer, grocery store, farmer’s market, you-pick farm, or direct-marketing farmer that is equipped to process EBT transactions. You can learn more here. 

Can I use my food stamps card in another state?

Yes! You can use your food stamps card at any authorized retail food store in the United States of America, including the US Virgin Islands and Guam.

However, food stamps programs in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands can only be used in the territory that issued the benefits.

Can I use my food stamps card in another country?

No, you cannot use your benefits outside of the United States of America.

How can I find a retailer near me that accepts food stamps?

There is a SNAP Retailer Locator that can help. It’s on the USDA website.

Is there anything else I can do with my food stamps card?

Yes! We have found hundreds of freebies and deals you can receive with your food stamps card. You don’t use your funds for these deals; you just show the card to get discounts. Get the details here!

How does my food stamps card work?!

Every month, you will receive more money on your food stamps card. The amount is determined by several factors, including how much  money you make and how many people are in your household. You can spend the money on eligible food items. If you don’t spend it all, the remaining amount will roll over to the next month.

What is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the official name of the United States’ food stamps program. This program is known by many names, including EBT, food stamps, CalFresh and more.

Who is considered part of my household?

For SNAP purposes, a household is everyone who lives together and buys/cooks together. Some people who live together are always counted as a household, even if they don’t cook together. These people include spouses, co-habitating parents of minors, and all children under age 22 who live with their parents.

What can I do to get more money in food stamps?

The food stamps algorithm is complicated. Up to 95% of food stamps users miss out on valuable deductions. Always report changes promptly and accurately to ensure that you are receiving the right amount of food stamps.

What happens if my purchase amount is higher than my food stamps balance?

If you don’t have enough money on your food stamps card to pay for the entire purchase, it’s okay. You will pay in two transactions. First, you will run the food stamps card. Next, you will pay the remaining balance with a different form of payment.

Do I have to separate my food and non-food items?

Nope! When you run the food stamps card, it will pay for all the eligible items. You will pay for the remaining ineligible items with another payment method.

Can I get cash back from my food stamps card? 

You cannot withdraw cash from your food stamps card but you can use smart shopping techniques to get cash back on your purchases!

How can I check my food stamps balance? 

There are several ways you can check your balance. We’ve written about them here.

Can I use coupons with my SNAP card?

Yes! You can use coupons. However, in states where food is taxed, you may have to pay the sales tax for the amount that was paid with the coupon. The tax cannot be paid with your food stamps card, so be prepared to use another payment method for those taxes.

Do I have to use all of my food stamps in the same month, or does the balance carry over to the next month?

Your food stamps balance will carry over from one month to the next. You do not have to use all of the funds in a single month, although many households find that their benefits don’t last an entire month.

If you do not use your card for an entire year, your account will be closed and all of the accrued benefits will be permanently removed.

Do I need to have my EBT card with me to make a purchase or can my EBT number be manually entered?

Many customers have reported experiencing judgment and backlash when paying with EBT, so it’s natural to want to avoid showing your card as often as possible. However, you will always need to have the physical food stamps card with you when you make a purchase.

Do I need to show photo ID in order to use my food stamps card?

The USDA’s official answer to this question is NO. You do not need to show photo ID in order to use your food stamps card to purchase food. This is because the food stamps benefits are intended to be used by the entire household, so the buyer’s ID may not always match the primary household member’s name on the card.

Also, federal law requires retailers to treat SNAP customers the same as non-SNAP customers. Requesting additional ID or steps at the register would single out food stamps users and violate that law.

Can someone else shop for me with my card?

Yes! Anyone in your household can use your food stamps card on your behalf. This includes minor children under the age of 18, as long as they know the PIN associated with the card.

You can also designate someone who is not part of your household to shop for you. This person is called an authorized representative. You will need to contact your local office in order to designate someone to be your authorized representative.

Do SNAP cards expire?

States have the option of putting expiration dates on food stamps cards, but not all do. If you do not use your food stamps benefits for one year, the funds will be completely removed from your account. Also, if you fail to complete necessary renewal paperwork, your benefits may suddenly stop.

What if something goes wrong?!

Sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan. If you need help, we’ve found answers!

What can I do if I’m having problems with my SNAP caseworker?

If you feel like your case has not been handled properly by your caseworker, you can ask to speak to a supervisor. You can also file a complaint at your local office.

If you think there has been a mistake with your case, you also have the right to a hearing. During the hearing, someone who is not involved in your case will review it. They will review the facts and fix any mistakes that have been made. In order to ask for a hearing, you will need to visit your local office, call the office or send a written request to the office. You must ask for a hearing within 90 days of the decision.

All eligible households may receive SNAP benefits. If you feel like you have been discriminated against, you should write a letter to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, Civil Rights Division, at 3101 Park Center Drive Room 942, Alexandria Virginia 22302.

Can I return something I bought with food stamps?

The federal law requires food stamps users to be treated exactly the same as other shoppers. If the store’s return policy would ordinarily allow someone to return an item, then you can return it. Returns will be refunded to the card that was used for the purchase.

What if I am being discriminated against at the store?

According to the SNAP Equal Treatment provision, all food stamps users are required to be treated the same as other customers at all retail stores participating in the program. If someone at the store is treating you differently, you should point this out to them.

If you need to file a complaint against a retailer, you can contact the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of the Inspector General. You can call them at (800) 424-9121 or email at [email protected]

How do I change my PIN?

You will need to contact your state’s EBT customer service number for assistance in changing your PIN.

How can I update my address?

If you moved or are planning to move, you will need to notify your local office. You can also call your state’s EBT customer service number to make that change.

Can I get a duplicate food stamps card?

Some states may issue multiple cards to a single household. All cards are linked to the same balance, so make sure you handle the funds responsibly! To find out if your state offers duplicate cards, you will need to contact your state’s EBT customer service number. 

What should I do if my card is lost, stolen or missing?

Contact your state’s EBT customer service number immediately. A customer service representative will help you protect your account and obtain a new card.

Can I be charged tax on SNAP purchases?

There is only one circumstance in which a retailer can charge tax to EBT shoppers. The only way they can charge tax is if tax is already included in the shelf price of the item. If the tax is added separately at the register, they cannot charge tax to food stamps users. 

What can I do if my application is denied?

If you disagree with the decision or think a mistake was made, you can request a hearing. During the hearing, an impartial person will review your case and fix any mistakes. You must call, visit the office or send a written request in order to get a hearing.

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4 Comments

  1. Ben O'Nealos
    October 10, 2019
    • Riley Thomson
      October 14, 2019
  2. Kimberly A Voss
    November 5, 2019
    • Riley Thomson
      November 6, 2019

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