Can You Buy Cough Drops With Ebt
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Can You Buy Cough Drops with EBT/SNAP Benefits?

For millions of low-income Americans who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, knowing what can and can’t be purchased with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards is important.

A common question that arises is whether or not cough drops can be bought with SNAP benefits loaded onto EBT cards.

 The federal regulations prohibiting this may seem inconvenient for those hoping to utilize their benefits to cover the cost of cough drops, but the restrictions are in place to ensure SNAP aids go toward true nutrition assistance.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: No, SNAP beneficiaries cannot buy cough drops with EBT/SNAP benefits.

While they may seem like a relatively innocuous drugstore purchase, cough drops are actually restricted items when it comes to EBT payment.

This comprehensive article will provide full details on the rules surrounding purchasing cough medicine with SNAP EBT cards.

We will cover relevant facts on SNAP benefit usage, explain what types of products are approved vs. prohibited, and provide advice on alternative payment options and the proper use of nutrition assistance funds.

EBT Cards Are for Food Purchases

Funded by the USDA’s SNAP Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people.

It is a federal aid program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The main goal of SNAP is to offer nutritional support to families and individuals with limited resources so they can purchase healthy food.

SNAP benefits are disbursed electronically through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system.

EBT cards work like debit cards and allow recipients to authorize the transfer of their government benefits to pay for products.

People can use EBT cards at grocery stores, neighborhood markets, corner stores, and some farmers’ markets as long as the retailers accept SNAP.

Only Approved Food Items Allowed

SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase eligible food items. These include bread, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, dairy, seeds, and plants intended for consumption.

However, EBT cards cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, medicines, supplements, live animals, pet foods, cleaning supplies, paper products, cosmetics, or any other non-food items.

When checking out at the register, people who pay with EBT cards must separate non-eligible items from SNAP-approved products.

Additionally, retailers are prohibited from giving cash refunds or providing substitutions for ineligible items purchased with SNAP benefits. Both customers and stores can face penalties for misusing EBT cards.

Medicines Not Considered Eligible Food

Although EBT cards can be used to buy certain grocery store products, over-the-counter medicines, and health aids and supplements do not qualify as SNAP-eligible food items.

Cough drops, pain relievers, antacids, vitamins, herbal supplements, and other OTC medications cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits.

These restrictions on cough drops, vitamins, supplements, and other ingestible OTC treatments are due to the fact that they are considered medicines rather than groceries.

While these medicated products may provide symptom relief, they do not meet the nutritional standards required for SNAP.

People who want to buy cough drops with EBT would need to pay for them using another form of payment.

Cough drops

Why Cough Drops Don’t Qualify

Classified as OTC Medication

Cough drops are considered an over-the-counter (OTC) medication by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)This classification as an OTC medication means cough drops are not eligible for purchase under SNAP benefits.

The main active ingredients in most cough drops are menthol, eucalyptus oil, and benzocaine, which act as throat anesthetics and cough suppressants.

So, while cough drops can provide temporary relief for sore throats and coughing, they don’t actually cure illness or disease.

Not Approved as SNAP-Eligible Product

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has specific federal regulations that prohibit the purchase of medicines and vitamins with SNAP benefits.

So far, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) agency has not added cough drops to the list of eligible products that can be bought with SNAP benefits.

FNS establishes criteria that each product must meet to qualify for SNAP, and cough drops simply don’t meet those standards. States must adhere to FNS rules and cannot independently determine which items are eligible without federal approval.

States Follow Federal EBT Restrictions

States administer their own Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card programs for SNAP benefits but must follow the federal regulations on which items are permitted for purchase.

While states can choose to prohibit additional items based on their own criteria, they cannot allow anything that goes against FNS rules.

This means no state allows the purchase of cough drops or other OTC medications through SNAP EBT cards. 

So, across all 50 states, cough drops are uniformly banned for SNAP EBT purchases due to their status as an OTC medicine under federal law.

Any state that did try to allow these restricted items would face penalties from the federal government, such as the forfeiture of administrative funds.

Payment Options for Buying Cough Drops

Use Cash, Credit, or Debit Cards

The simplest way to purchase cough drops if you can’t use SNAP benefits is to pay with cash, a credit card, or a debit card.

Most major retailers like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and grocery stores accept these traditional payment methods for over-the-counter medicines like cough drops. 

Just grab a small pack off the shelf, go to the register, and pay with whatever tender you have on hand.

The prices for cough drops are usually pretty affordable – between $2-5, depending on brand and quantity. Just be sure to get a receipt so you can track your purchase.

Paying with debit card

Check Food Banks and Relief Agencies

For those who can’t afford even these small out-of-pocket costs, check with local food banks, churches, shelters, or relief agencies to see if they distribute cough drops free of charge.

Especially during cold and flu season, many of these organizations receive donations of basic medical supplies like cough drops to hand out to people in need.

They may be able to provide a pack at no cost so you can soothe your sore throat. Call around to a few nearby options to explain your situation and see if they can help.

Compare Prices at Discount Retailers

To save the most money when buying cough drops without SNAP, shop at dollar stores or discount retailers like Dollar General and Dollar Tree.

You can often find branded cough drops in small packs for only $1-2 per pack at these stores. That’s half the price of buying them at CVS!

You can also sometimes find promotions like ‘buy one get one free’ cough medicine sales at stores like Rite Aid or Walgreens if you keep an eye out for deals and coupons.

Using EBT Strictly for Food Purchases

Stick to Approved Items Like Fruits, Veggies, Breads

When shopping with EBT cards, it’s crucial to stick to SNAP-eligible foods like fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, and dairy products.

The USDA provides exhaustive lists of approved food items that can be purchased with SNAP benefits.

Some examples include:

  • Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried produce
  • Breads, cereals, pasta, and grains
  • Meats, fish, poultry, and eggs
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages

Avoid the temptation to grab restricted items like cough drops, vitamins, pet food, paper towels, or cleaning supplies when shopping with EBT.

Using SNAP benefits for anything other than nutritious groceries is prohibited and can put your benefits at risk.

Avoid Attempting to Buy Ineligible Items

It’s important to understand that EBT cards function differently than other payment methods.

When ringing up purchases, cashiers are required to separate SNAP-eligible foods from ineligible items

Attempting to buy restricted products with EBT benefits can hold up the checkout line and frustrate retailers.

The transaction will be declined if you try to use SNAP funds to purchase medicine, health aids, hot foods, or non-food items.

Save yourself potential embarrassment or penalties by only purchasing approved staple groceries with your EBT card.

Ask Store If Unsure of EBT Eligibility

Despite comprehensive guidelines, determining EBT-eligible items can occasionally get confusing. Some products seem borderline between food and other merchandise.

Before ringing up any questionable purchases with your SNAP benefits, ask the retailer if they can be bought with EBT. Most stores train their employees on what can and cannot be purchased with food stamps.

Rather than guessing, get clarification from customer service or staff about SNAP-approved items. This will ensure you use your EBT legally and avoid accidental misuse.


While not being able to purchase cough drops with SNAP EBT benefits may be an inconvenience, the restrictions are in place to ensure nutrition assistance funds serve their intended purpose.

The best approach for EBT recipients is to focus spending on SNAP-approved staple foods and groceries and save non-food drugstore purchases for cash, credit, or other payment methods.

With a myriad of rules around what can and can’t be bought with EBT, it’s understandable that questions arise about item eligibility from time to time. However, as long as SNAP participants make an effort to follow program guidelines and use benefits appropriately for essential grocery needs, they can build healthy diets and get the most out of their food budget.

Checking with stores in advance can also help avoid confusion at checkout when it comes to prohibited items like cough drops.

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