Using Your Food Stamps

“What can you buy with food stamps and where do you find participating retailers and restaurants?” is a question that many new program beneficiaries may ask about how to use their benefits.

As a participant of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), qualifying households receive money on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, helping them to purchase nutritious food and beverage items for their families. These items often include staple foods such as bread, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. However, beneficiaries cannot use their benefits to purchase alcohol, non-food items and luxury foods.

“Where can I find places that take EBT food stamps near me?” beneficiaries may wonder. To help find participating grocers, they may use the Retail Locator tool on the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To use the tool, recipients simply need to enter their zip code, city and state, or their full address. To learn more about how beneficiaries can use their benefits, review the information below.

What can you buy with EBT cards?

Program beneficiaries may use food stamps to purchase eligible food items such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, cereals, breads, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, participants may use SNAP benefits to purchase plants and seeds that can be used to produce edible foods as well as certain gift baskets and birthday cakes that are at least 50 percent edible. For instance, a gift basket may contain edible and non-food items, as long as the non-food items do not exceed 50 percent of the basket’s purchase price. Additionally, birthday cakes may contain non-edible decorations, as long as the decorations do not exceed 50 percent of the cake’s value.

Stores and Restaurants That Accept EBT Cards

Many places that accept EBT cards as payment are available throughout the U.S. For instance, these establishments include authorized grocery stores and certain gas stations, butcher shops or farmer’s markets. At a participating SNAP farmers market, beneficiaries may purchase healthy foods and fresh fruits or vegetables, as long as the establishment is authorized to accept this form of payment. Additionally, certain restaurants may choose to accept this form of payment in some situations. For instance, restaurants may do so in exchange for affordable meals if customers are elderly, disabled or homeless. However, these benefits typically cannot be used to purchase hot foods at the point-of-sale.

Related Article: Where to Use Food Stamps

In some cases, EBT online shopping is an option for qualifying beneficiaries as well. For instance, several places that accept SNAP benefits as part of the USDA’s online pilot program include Amazon, Walmart, FreshDirect and ShopRite. However, only certain states such as New York, New Jersey and Maryland currently participate in this online pilot program and additional restrictions may apply. FreshDirect only accepts this form of payment when delivering to two Bronx-area zip codes such as 10455 and 10454. While other places that accept EBT online payments include Walmart, additional rules apply. For instance, customers may place an order online, but they must visit a Walmart store to present their EBT card and pay in person. After customers pay in person, Walmart will ship their online order.

What is SNAP ed?

SNAP education is a helpful program that is available to qualifying beneficiaries who wish to obtain information about living healthier lives while following a restricted budget. Through the program, beneficiaries learn how to shop for and prepare healthier meals for their families, and resources are available to help them find other nutrition assistance programs in their area.

However, each state operates its own SNAP ed program, and the name of the program may vary throughout the U.S. In California, for instance, this program is known as the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program and Champions for Change (CA). In New York, it is known as Eat Smart New York (ESNY), while the state of Florida oversees the Family Nutrition Program.

Current SNAP Work Requirements

Able bodied adults without dependents (known as ABAWDs) must meet specific requirements before they may qualify for and use these food benefits. For instance, adults without disabilities or dependents who are between 18 and 49 years of age must participate in at least 80 hours of training, education or work activities each month, or they will only qualify for three months of benefits within a three-year period. Known as the 3 month rule, beneficiaries will only receive benefits beyond this limit if they meet the minimum work, training or education requirements.

However, adults who cannot work due to pregnancy or other physical or mental restrictions do not need to meet these requirements. Additionally, capable adults are exempt if they care for a child or an incapacitated household member, or they are younger than 18 years of age or older than 50 years of age.

Note: In areas with higher unemployment rates, states may choose to waive these time limits.

Avoiding Food Stamp Fraud

To avoid SNAP fraud, beneficiaries must use their benefits wisely and follow all program rules and regulations. For instance, program participants cannot exchange their benefits for cash (known as trafficking) and they cannot lie on their enrollment application. Additionally, retailers commit fraud if they abuse the program and are disqualified from participating but lie on their application in order to requalify.

Moreover, beneficiaries may report food stamp fraud online, by mail or telephone if they suspect suspicious activity at any time. As another option, claimants may contact their state’s fraud hotline if they believe that a participant has misused their benefits or lied about their eligibility status.

How to Apply for SNAP Recertification or Replace an EBT Card

While the food stamp recertification process varies by state, beneficiaries can typically renew their benefits in person or by mail. In some states, participants may renew their benefits online. Additionally, participants generally need to complete an application to determine whether they still qualify for nutrition assistance after their original enrollment period ends. If beneficiaries do not renew their benefits, however, they will no longer receive assistance under the program. In most cases, beneficiaries receive a food stamp renewal notice in the mail as a reminder to apply for recertification.

To replace a lost EBT card, however, program participants must first report the missing credential by contacting their state’s EBT Customer Service department. This contact information is available on the back of the EBT card or on the USDA’s website.

Related Article: How to Renew Food Stamps Benefits

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