What can you buy with Food Stamps?

(Last Updated On: January 1, 2019)

Have you ever wondered “What can you buy with food stamps?” It seems like the state agencies that award EBT funds are very good at telling you what you CAN’T buy with food stamps… but they aren’t always as good at telling you what CAN you buy with food stamps.

So…

What can you buy with food stamps?

The answer may surprise you! In addition to buying groceries and wholesome produce, your food stamps benefits can also be used to purchase:

You can buy seeds and plants with food stamps.

One of the wisest ways to spend your SNAP dollars is buying produce-bearing plants! Growing your own food can save you a lot of money, in some cases!

You can purchase vegetable seeds, herbs, fruit trees, tomato plants and vegetable starts with your food stamps benefits. It makes sense that you can use your food stamps to grow your own food. It’s a wise investment! Many retailers are unaware of this benefit, so you may need to refer them to this helpful resource!

After receiving some great questions from our readers, we reached out to the USDA for clarification on this. This is the response I received via email:

Thank you for contacting USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) with question about the eligibility of certain plant species for purchase with SNAP benefits.

The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (the Act) states that SNAP households may use SNAP benefits to purchase seeds and plants which produce food for consumption.  Eligible seeds and plants include vegetable seeds and plants that produce food such as tomato and green pepper plants.  Other eligible items include fruit trees, food-producing roots, bushes and bulbs such as asparagus roots and berry bushes.  Seeds and plants that produce cooking spices are also eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.

Accordingly, some herb plants produce for consumption and are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits, while others do not produce food for consumption and are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.  Each fresh herb plant sold at the market will have to be weighed under this factor to determine SNAP eligibility.  For example, most mint, spearmint, cilantro, basil, sage, and oregano plants produce food for consumption and are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.  However, some varieties of sage plants are purely ornamental, do not produce food for consumption, and are thus ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.

It should also be noted that any plant or seed purchased with SNAP benefits should be purchased to grow food for the SNAP household and not for commercial use.

In January 2018, USDA issued a memorandum about this. They specifically stated:

Garden Seeds and Plants: Seeds and plants used in gardens to produce food for human consumption are eligible foods. This includes the following items:
• Seeds for producing edible plants and edible plants (e.g., tomatoes and green pepper seeds or plants, and fruit trees);
• Edible food producing roots, bushes, and bulbs (e.g., asparagus crowns and onion bulbs); and
• Seeds and plants used to produce spices for use in cooking.

You can also buy these items!

Fresh produce from Farmer’s Markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs can be paid with EBT as long as the vendor is approved to process EBT benefits!

Energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label can be purchased with EBT. If the drink has a”supplement facts” label, it isn’t eligible because it is not considered a food item.

Pizza from take-and-bake outlets like Papa Murphy’s can be purchased with food stamps. Some of these places (such as Figaro’s and Zappos) will cook the pizza for you on-site for just a dollar or two.

Live lobsters and other shellfish that can be eaten are also purchasable.

You can also use food stamps to enhance your holidays!

Birthday and other special bakery cakes can be purchased with food stamps as long as the decorations don’t exceed 50% of the purchase price. If the cake has a lot of decorations that drive up the cost, it won’t be eligible… but a cake that is reasonably decorated is just fine.

Gift baskets (including pre-filled holiday stockings and tins) can also be purchased as long as the majority of the value is edible and no prohibited items are included. For example, a large bear with a small chocolate box would not be eligible… but a gift box with meats and cheeses would be, even if it included a few non-edible items. Anything that contains alcohol, cigarettes or pet items is not eligible.

Want a pumpkin for Halloween? You can purchase pumpkins with food stamps as long as they’re edible and not ornamental!

Live in Alaska?

If you live in rural areas of Alaska, you may also be able to purchase hunting and fishing equipment with your food stamps benefits! Since rural Alaskans have limited access to stores, families int hese areas are issued special identification cards that verify their eligibility to buy these products.

Among other things, rural Alaskans can buy nets, hooks, fishing poles, harpoons, and knives. They cannot purchase gasoline, motor oil, clothing, shelter, firesarms, ammuntion or explosives of any kind.

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