When you receive SNAP food benefits through the EBT program, you may wonder if you can use your benefits card to purchase non-food essentials like toiletries, diapers, cleaning supplies, etc.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Only certain non-food items are eligible for purchase with EBT benefits depending on your state’s specific rules.
In this comprehensive 2500-word guide, we will cover federal guidelines around using SNAP benefits for non-food items as well as dive into state-specific eligible non-food EBT purchases.
Federal Guidelines for Non-Food EBT Purchases
Summary of SNAP rules around non-food items
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides assistance to low-income individuals and families to purchase food.
While the program primarily focuses on food purchases, there are certain non-food items that can be bought using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) benefits.
It’s important to note that SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase eligible food items, but some non-food items may also be eligible under specific circumstances.
Definition of ‘food’ vs ‘non-food’ by SNAP
SNAP defines ‘food’ as any item that is intended for human consumption. This includes fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, poultry, grains, and bakery products, among others.
‘Non-food’ items, on the other hand, refer to products that are not intended for human consumption. These can include personal care items, household supplies, and even certain types of seeds and plants for growing food.
General categories of eligible non-foods
While the purchase of non-food items with SNAP benefits is generally prohibited, there are a few exceptions.
Some of the categories of non-food items that may be eligible for purchase using EBT benefits include:
- Seeds and plants: Certain types of seeds and plants that produce food for the household can be bought with SNAP benefits. These can include vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
- Hot foods: In certain states that participate in the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP), SNAP recipients can use their benefits to purchase hot foods or prepared meals from authorized retailers. This provision aims to provide immediate food assistance to those who may not have access to cooking facilities.
- Personal care items: While most personal care items are considered non-eligible, there are exceptions for items such as diapers, baby wipes, and baby formula. These items are considered essential for the well-being of individuals and families.
- Non-alcoholic beverages: Although SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase alcoholic beverages, they can be used to buy non-alcoholic beverages, including coffee, tea, and juice, provided that they are not intended for immediate consumption on the retailer’s premises.
It’s important to remember that the eligibility of non-food items may vary from state to state, so it’s always advisable to check with your local SNAP office or refer to the official SNAP website for the most up-to-date information.
State-by-State Rules and Eligible Items
Baby supplies – diapers, wipes, formula
Did you know that in most states, you can use your EBT benefits to purchase baby supplies?
This includes essential items such as diapers, wipes, and formula. These items are crucial for the well-being and health of babies, and it’s great to see that the EBT program recognizes their importance.
Keep in mind that the eligibility and rules regarding which brands and sizes are covered may vary from state to state. It’s always a good idea to check your state’s specific guidelines for EBT purchases.
Keeping a clean and healthy living environment is crucial. While generally, you cannot buy cleaning supplies with EBT benefits, some states have opted to allow the purchase of certain cleaning supplies with EBT benefits.
For example, EBT may be used to purchase dish soap, laundry detergent, and all-purpose cleaners. Having access to these essential cleaning supplies helps individuals and families maintain a safe and hygienic home.
It’s important to note that some states may have restrictions on the types and quantities of cleaning supplies that can be purchased, so it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific guidelines.
Seeds and house plants
Did you know that in some states, you can even use your EBT benefits to buy seeds and house plants? This is a fantastic opportunity for individuals and families to start their own gardens or bring some greenery into their homes.
Growing your own food can be a cost-effective way to supplement your meals, and having house plants can improve indoor air quality and bring a sense of tranquility to your living space.
However, it’s important to note that not all states allow the purchase of seeds and house plants with EBT benefits. Some states may have restrictions on the types of plants that are eligible or on the size or quantity of plants that can be purchased.
It is best to make sure to check your state’s guidelines on the purchase of seeds and plants with EBT benefits.
How to Check If a Non-Food Item is EBT Eligible
Reference your state’s EBT website
One of the easiest ways to determine if a non-food item is eligible for purchase using your EBT benefits is by visiting your state’s EBT website.
Each state has its own website that provides information on eligible items, as well as any restrictions or limitations. These websites are a valuable resource for EBT recipients and can provide detailed information on what can and cannot be purchased using EBT benefits.
Call the customer service number on the back of your EBT card
If you are unable to find the information you need on your state’s EBT website, you can call the customer service number on the back of your EBT card.
The customer service representatives are trained to assist EBT recipients and can provide guidance on whether a specific non-food item is eligible for purchase using EBT benefits.
Be sure to have the item’s information ready when you call, such as the brand, model, and price, as this will help the representative provide you with accurate information.
Check at the register if the non-food item rings up as an eligible purchase
Sometimes, even if a non-food item is not listed as eligible on the EBT website or confirmed by customer service, it may still ring up as an eligible purchase at the register.
This can happen due to coding errors or updates that have not been reflected on the EBT website.
If you are uncertain about the eligibility of a non-food item, you can ask the cashier to check if it rings up as an eligible purchase when using your EBT card.
However, it’s important to note that if an item is not eligible, it is your responsibility to pay for it using alternate payment methods.
Remember, it’s always best to check the eligibility of non-food items before attempting to purchase them with your EBT benefits. This will help ensure that you are using your benefits appropriately and avoid any potential issues or misunderstandings at the register.
Purchasing Household Supplies Within Your SNAP Budget
When it comes to using your EBT benefits, it’s important to remember that they can be used for more than just food. Non-food items such as household supplies are also eligible for purchase with your SNAP benefits.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your SNAP budget when buying non-food essentials.
Create a list of the most needed non-food essentials
Before heading to the store, take some time to create a list of the non-food items you need.
This will help you stay focused and avoid impulse purchases. Some common non-food essentials include cleaning products, baby supplies, and seeds and plants.
By prioritizing your needs, you can ensure that you are making the most efficient use of your SNAP benefits.
Compare prices at different retailers
Just like when shopping for groceries, it’s important to compare prices at different retailers to get the best deal on non-food items.
Check out websites or apps that allow you to compare prices at different stores to find the most affordable options.
Additionally, consider shopping at discount stores or online retailers that offer lower prices on household supplies.
Remember, every dollar saved can make a big difference in stretching your SNAP budget.
Look for coupons and store discounts
Don’t forget to look for coupons and store discounts when shopping for non-food items.
Many retailers offer discounts or promotions on household supplies that can help you save even more money. Look for coupons in newspapers, magazines, and online coupon websites.
Additionally, some stores may offer loyalty programs or special discounts for SNAP recipients.
Take advantage of these opportunities to save on your non-food purchases.
Buy in bulk when items are on sale
Buying non-food items in bulk can be a great way to save money in the long run. Keep an eye out for sales or promotions on household supplies and stock up when the prices are low.
Buying in bulk can help you save money and ensure that you have an ample supply of non-food essentials on hand. Just make sure to check the expiration dates on perishable items like cleaning products or baby supplies.
Shop at dollar stores for deals on non-foods
Dollar stores can be a treasure trove for finding great deals on non-food items. These stores often carry a wide variety of household supplies at significantly lower prices compared to traditional retailers.
While the quality may vary, many dollar-store products offer good value for your money. Just be sure to check the ingredients or expiration dates, especially for personal care items and cleaning products.
By following these tips, you can make the most of your SNAP benefits when purchasing non-food items.
Remember, every dollar saved on household supplies can be used towards other essential needs. Don’t be afraid to get creative and find ways to stretch your SNAP budget while still meeting your family’s needs.
Using SNAP Benefits Responsibly
SNAP benefits, also known as EBT benefits, are intended to help low-income individuals and families afford nutritious food. While these benefits are primarily meant for purchasing food items, there are some non-food items that can be bought with EBT benefits.
However, it is important to use these benefits responsibly and prioritize the purchase of essential food items.
Avoid buying unnecessary non-food items
When using SNAP benefits, it is crucial to avoid spending them on unnecessary non-food items.
While it may be tempting to purchase items like cigarettes, alcohol, or luxury goods, these items are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
It is important to follow the guidelines set by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and make wise choices when using these benefits.
Prioritize nutrients with SNAP benefits
Since the primary goal of SNAP benefits is to ensure individuals and families have access to nutritious food, it is important to prioritize the purchase of items that provide essential nutrients.
This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products.
By focusing on nutrient-dense foods, SNAP recipients can make the most out of their benefits and support their overall health and well-being.
Supplement with food bank products when possible
In some cases, SNAP benefits may not be sufficient to meet all of an individual or family’s food needs.
In such situations, it can be helpful to supplement with products from local food banks or other charitable organizations.
These organizations often provide additional food assistance, including non-perishable items, which can help stretch SNAP benefits further and ensure access to an adequate food supply.
Report lost or stolen EBT cards immediately
If a SNAP recipient’s EBT card is lost or stolen, it is important to report it immediately.
This will help prevent unauthorized individuals from using the benefits and ensure that a replacement card is issued promptly.
Most states have dedicated helplines or websites where individuals can report lost or stolen cards, so it is important to familiarize oneself with the process and take immediate action to protect the benefits.
While federal SNAP guidelines restrict purchasing non-food items with EBT benefits, many states allow exceptions for essential non-foods within their SNAP programs.
Confirm your state’s specific rules and shop smartly for household necessities that are EBT-eligible.
Remember, SNAP benefits are a valuable resource designed to help individuals and families access nutritious food. By using them responsibly and making wise choices, recipients can make the most out of their benefits and improve their overall well-being.