Food Stamps 101

If you are new to the SNAP program, or food stamp program, it is important to understand a bit about how the program works so that you know how to best take advantage of all the potential benefits.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest food assistance program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). With over 38 million participants in 2018, the program helps low-income households around the nation have access to a greater range of healthy foods.

However, SNAP benefits cannot help you if you do not know how to use them. Continue reading the following sections to grasp the basics on where you can use food stamps, what you can buy with an EBT card and how to renew SNAP benefits before they expire.

A Brief History of Food Stamps and Statistics

When did food stamps start? In 1939, the first paper food stamp program was launched to help connect hungry Americans to farmers’ surplus food supplies. This first food stamps program was such a success that it ended a few years later because the problems it was launched to fix no longer existed. In the 1960s, the President John F. Kennedy administration launched new versions of a food stamp program to help low-income citizens in all 50 states.

Over the next few decades, different administrations made significant food stamp changes to continue growing the program to meet shifting needs. The program was officially renamed SNAP and states were put in charge of administering the federal benefit dollars. Printed paper SNAP benefits disappeared as all 50 states began using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to deliver benefits to people facing hunger.

Related Article: History of Food Stamps

The USDA released food stamps news updates indicating that 39.3 million people are receiving benefits as of September 2018. California tops the charts for state program participation, with nearly 2 million households receiving benefits. Over 263,000 firms nationwide are authorized to accept SNAP EBT card payments, and the number of participating SNAP farmers market locations have increased by 81 percent since 2013.

Recent Changes to SNAP Benefits

The SNAP program continues to change, and its evolution includes accommodating the way communication has changed over the past decade. According to the UN’s telecommunications agency, there are almost as many cell phone subscriptions (6.8 billion) as there are people on the planet (7 billion). SNAP is now pilot testing programs that will allow SNAP benefit purchases to be made through mobile devices, just like other credit card and payment apps.

Some adults can only get program benefits for three months in three years unless they meet SNAP work requirements. Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) between the ages of 18 and 49 must work at least 20 hours per week or participate in educational or training activities at least 80 hours per month to receive benefits. Exceptions exist by obtaining a SNAP ABAWD waiver for pregnant women and those with documented mental or physical issues.

Where to Use Your SNAP Program Benefits

If you are wondering how to find places that accept EBT, the USDA’s website maintains an interactive map that pinpoints all the places in your area that are authorized EBT retailers. Most places that accept EBT will have a sign in the window that states “EBT accepted” but you can also be reasonably sure that all large supermarket chains and superstores accept SNAP EBT cards for payment.

There are certain restaurants that accept EBT, and you can also use your card at some convenience stores, farmers markets, small neighborhood grocers and wholesale clubs. EBT online shopping is also now an option, as long as the items being purchased are the types of foods SNAP allows.

How can I wisely use my SNAP EBT card?

SNAP food stamps provides access to a wide variety of foods, and it is important to budget wisely to get the most out of your food stamp benefits. You can combine SNAP food stamps with store sales and coupons to save even more money while feeding your family. Adding meatless meals to your diet is a good way to stretch your dollars and improve your overall health.

Foods that can be purchased with SNAP benefits include plants and seeds that produce food for the household. Use your benefits to buy:

  • Breads, rice and cereal.
  • Fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables.
  • Meat, eggs, fish and poultry.
  • Dairy products.
  • Snack foods, such as crackers, cookies and ice cream.

Items that cannot be purchased with a SNAP EBT card include the following:

  • Vitamins
  • Live animals and birds, except for live seafood including fish, lobsters and shellfish
  • Diapers
  • Pet foods
  • Beer, wine or liquor
  • Cigarettes or tobacco
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Cleaning supplies and paper products

SNAP Education and Fraud Prevention

SNAP-Ed is a nutrition education and obesity prevention program that teaches food stamp recipients how to get the most out of their SNAP assistance benefits. SNAP education program topics include nutrition basics, how to shop wisely and how exercising regularly is an important part of obtaining and maintaining good health.

All SNAP program recipients should be concerned about food stamp fraud and be willing to report it. SNAP fraud costs the government millions of dollars each year. Without people to report food stamp fraud, the impact can begin to prevent hungry people from receiving the help they need.

How to Renew Food Stamp Benefits and Replace an EBT Card

Although SNAP recertification can be requested at other intervals, most people are asked to complete food stamp recertification on an annual basis. Usually, applicants can begin the process to renew food stamps online, then schedule a SNAP interview. A new interview is required each time you renew, but sometimes it can be done over the phone instead of in person.

A lost EBT card can be fraudulently used, so it is important to report a lost food stamp card as soon as you notice it is missing, especially if you suspect it may have been stolen. EBT card replacement can easily be requested online or by calling the toll-free customer service helpline at (888) 328-6399 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Related Article: How to Renew Food Stamps Benefits

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