5 Surprising Things You Can Buy With Food Stamps

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Reductions in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, automatically kick in today as a result of the expiration of provisions the 2009 stimulus bill. Meanwhile, Congressional leaders are debating what further cuts will be made to the program as part of negotiations over the farm bill. Republicans are pushing to make benefits less generous and to increase work requirements; Democrats disagree.

An issue that hasn’t gotten as much attention during these debates is what food-stamp recipients are able to buy with their benefits. Public health advocates like Michele Simon have long argued that the lack of restrictions on the types of food aid-recipients can buy has helped fuel an American health crisis caused by unhealthy eating. Writes Simon:

“Much attention has focused on how agricultural subsidies fuel our cheap, unhealthy food supply. In reality, the largest and most overlooked taxpayer subsidy to Big Food in the farm bill is SNAP, which now represents more than ten percent of all grocery spending.”

So what exactly can SNAP recipients buy with their benefits? There are a few restrictions, against alcohol, and tobacco for instance. But curiously, most junk food is fair game, calling into question whether the “nutrition” in SNAP means much to lawmakers at all. Here are just a few of the items one can buy:

  • Red Bull
  • Sugary Soda
  • Candy
  • Mixes for alcoholic beverages
  • Artificial sweetener

Of course, big agribusiness is complicit in the structure of the food stamp program. Simon gives the example of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to bar food-stamp recipients from buying sugary soft drinks with SNAP dollars. Big companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola fought back against the measure, which was ultimately vetoed by the Department of Agriculture, saying that the measure would be unworkable.

But take a look at the current restrictions the Agriculture Department places on food stamp use, and it’s difficult to understand why proscribing junk food purchases would be all that difficult. The list of items that one can’t buy with food stamps but that are also commonly found in supermarkets is extensive, including the aforementioned alcohol, but also pet food, ornamental gourds, and prepared foods. Why would barring junk food be functionally different than barring alcohol?

Hunger advocates have pushed back against food-stamp restrictions. But as Simon points out, Walmart and other corporate beneficiaries of SNAP spend millions of dollars each year funding anti-poverty groups. This is laudable, but it is also perhaps a way to fund advocacy initiatives that dovetail with these corporations profit motive as well.

1356 comments
PageandPalate
PageandPalate

Ah, so many judgmental folks, so little time. News flash: Not everyone who uses EBT (food stamps) is "milking" the system. My husband and I have been at the same job for 11 years and 16 years, respectively. We have three college degrees between us. We also have a child. We have been paying into the "system" our entire lives, which means that this money is ours to spend as WE choose, as long as we are following the rules as outlined by the USDA (no alcohol, "hot foods," cleaning supplies, medicines, etc.) Shame on those of you who throw stones while living in glass houses - perhaps you will be in the shoes of the working poor one day. 

HahnJackson
HahnJackson

i thought you were going to tell people about buying fruit and vegetable seeds

AndrewDFord
AndrewDFord

How is it surprising...state and government are corrupt unlike Germany and a dozen other countries where all these food are none existent or banned. Stand in the mirror, say but they lied to me" and from THAT POINT ON REALIZE for yourself everything you know?

bencinnati
bencinnati

We forget- BigFood and their lobbyist may weigh in on this decision....if they are going to lose money....

bilbofraggins
bilbofraggins

I'm on food stamps now and I plan on suckling on the government teat indefinitely, I will never work another day in my life. I'm going to sit around eating junk food, buy lobster for my drug dealers, and try to work up the courage to injure myself badly enough to qualify for disability. Yes you heard it here folks; everyone on food stamps is a parasite who should just starve to death already. I am by far the biggest problem facing our country! Ten thousand people just like me wouldn't be wholly insignificant or anything!

bencinnati
bencinnati

My cousin was on food stamps during college. She was paying out of pocket for tuition and books. She also had to support a family. It helped her through college, and now she's a social worker. She didn't abuse the system. She reported her new income when she started working. Not all recipients are parasites.....racist prick. The few don't represent the whole.

PatriciaNewman
PatriciaNewman

Yes, you are a parasite, you add to the problem of our society.

CharlesWatson
CharlesWatson

Also, the way I look at is that I wasn't getting food stamps for years. I paid taxes that went into the system. I'm simply reaping what I put in for so many years.

CharlesWatson
CharlesWatson

Are you serious?! I work two jobs but qualify for food stamps because I have three small children an my wife is a stay at home mother. Many take advantage of the system. I am not one of them.

SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT
SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT

"Public health advocates like Michele Simon have long argued that the lack of restrictions on the types of food aid-recipients can buy has helped fuel an American health crisis caused by unhealthy eating." I wish there would be more accurate arguments!  "Republicans are pushing to make benefits less generous and to increase work requirements; Democrats disagree." I wish there would be more useful arguments! If there is a work requirement, there is a work requirement! Increase it how? It's either we place in them in jobs or we don't! Then give them jobs, like all other Americans. If you would like to fix America's health problems, don't restrict the type of food poor people can eat, restrict the type of food all of us can eat. (Obviously that's a horrible idea). Our problems are caused by ineffective politicians and public officials, that have no clue about the average American's issues. If you want Americans to work, GIVE THEM JOBS! If you want to make American's healthier, make healthy food the more affordable and incentivized option! 

FlashRom
FlashRom

@SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT I am on food stamps it is not the types of food we can buy it is the cost of the food we can buy.   Look at the cost of lean meats, organic foods, and fresh fruit and veggies.   Then look at  the cost of single serving 10 inch pizza's, potato chips, and sugar filled snack.   I try buying good foods but when I do yea my calories go down but so do my vitamins and protein intake.   So along with the weight I am losing by eating better I am also losing muscle mass because I am not getting what I need.  Yes I eat better foods but do I have enough food stamps to buy enough of those better foods.  NO.  You can take a few ( and I mean a few ) people and hold them up as what is wrong with the system but that would be like us holding up a  extreme republican or an extreme liberal and saying every one is like that. 

People need to please stop making this about politics and try making it about helping people.

eiqse
eiqse

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Jessie.klinesmith
Jessie.klinesmith

if i could not get red bull or chocolate how would i be able to do my college work. Redbull gives you A's about to get some now seeing how i have a test coming up

Shasta4737
Shasta4737

Sadly, people don't receive enough in food stamps to buy a whole month of junk food. If they are forced to buy only nutritious, healthy food, they'll be starving by the end of the month. Junk food is a heck of a lot cheaper than good food! The government needs to increase the number of food stamps people get. If that happens, I believe a lot of people would buy healthier groceries without being forced into it.

PatriciaNewman
PatriciaNewman

Hate to say, your in the wrong state, come to ky. Have a kid and draw them for 20 plus years. Teach your no good kids how to do it

and the process starts all over again.

MilesKubik
MilesKubik

@Shasta4737 If I could afford to eat healthy, fresh food over some of the garbage I have to eat because of my budget I'm sure my health would benefit incredibly. People seem to forget that systematically junk food and food that's absolutely terrible for you has been made far cheaper and easier to acquire than stuff that's healthier. When someone's in a position where they have to weigh the cost and value of buying enough food for a month or food that is healthy but not going to even keep them full/run out before they have more money what do you expect is going to happen?

morgan.goldberg
morgan.goldberg

Barring "junk food" would be difficult because how do you define it when you get into the nitty gritty.


Raisan bran v. cocoa puffs, a bagel v. a whole wheat donut, should fatty meats be allowed, or whole milk, or pizza?

Orange juice is worse than soda, should it be banned because most of the nutrition is sucked out of it barring one or two vitamins that are added back in?


Then there is the question of your individual diet, the USDA calculates the SNAP amount before deductions, as "middle aged men", they also calculate women and the elderly who need and use less calories, should women get less SNAP because they need fewer calories or the elderly, then what about occupation, clearly a firefighter, personal trainer, or laborer needs less calories than a desk worker. 


It would be too complicated to figure out the variables and be subject to politics and lobbying (no SNAP for gatorade or vitamin water but yes to nestle for juicy juice even though the former is probably more nutritious).


Bloomberg would ban gatorade or vitamin water but not OJ,chocolate milk, and sugary yogurt drinks. Although vitamin water isn't good for you since the sugar is in there, you could argue its healther because it includes vitamins right?

So there is no easy solution without additional costs and bureaucracy.

BrunoFehr
BrunoFehr

Well you can buy drugs with food stamps, so why not junk food?

Jessie.klinesmith
Jessie.klinesmith

no you can just buy drugs with them also with drugs most places in the hood will let you buy pipes for the crack as well as hot food items. not that i do that but seen it done and many people around here will tell you where you can do it at.

NicholasByrd
NicholasByrd

@BrunoFehr Oh, really? Due to an ongoing issue with epileptic seizures and a degenerative spinal disorder I am on food stamps, so this is from experience. You can't even buy hot, cooked, food with the SNAP program, which I am fine with because you obviously get more calories out of a 10lb bag of rice and a $2.00 jar of bullion cubes for flavor. For a person to buy drugs using the SNAP program they would either need to buy someone's groceries and have them pay you back some cash for it or trade the worth for a certain amount of drugs, all of which is illegal and I would turn someone in gladly for abusing this system. So no, you can't simply just "buy drugs" with EBT, that is one of the reasons they changed to electronic cards so that there was no way to trade physical "food stamps." The electronic system can be abused and I would be fine if they required an ID check to make sure people aren't loaning out their cards for other purposes. I know many people are against the EBT program, but charities, neighbors, and churches can't provide food for 47 million people, regardless of what opponents of the program would have you believe. We do have a social responsibility to end hunger, it would be hard to call ourselves a "civilized" nation otherwise. I don't know if you are misinformed, simply dislike the program, or are willing to blame the majority of recipients for the abuses of the few, but the EBT program is a good thing, not a bad one. As for people who think social support programs like this are detrimental to the economy they fail to take into account that you can work full time and over time and still be below the poverty level, and that Germany, the country with the 4th highest GDP in the world, has a much more comprehensive unemployment and food assistance program than we do and a higher instance of social order. Some people do abuse the social support system, they will always try, and hopefully we will find better ways to stop them, but it is extremely difficult to stop someone from using their EBT card to buy someone else, who isn't there, $100 worth of groceries and trade it for $40 worth of crack. I have never, and will never, abused this system because it has gotten me through this extremely difficult period of time in my life, and assuming I recover well from my upcoming surgeries and my seizures are gotten under control I can return to the workforce and contribute back into that system in order to help others. Not everyone with an EBT card is a drug addled/lazy drain on society, some of us were just hit by health problems far beyond our control, and are very grateful that we don't have to go hungry because of it. 

MilesKubik
MilesKubik

@NicholasByrd @BrunoFehr As someone who is also chronically ill the fact that these benefits have such restrictions placed on them that I can't even buy prepared food while I'm too sick most days to get out of bed to make much of anything is incredibly sad. Not everyone is trying to bleed the system or simply a lazy degenerate. 


Those who abuse the system are in the extreme minority and for the most part people who make jokes about this type of thing have likely never been without or in a position where they have little choice in the matter. I used to work fulltime, I have a college degree and yet I'm suddenly in a position where I need aid. People need to as a whole be a bit more sympathetic and think about helping others rather than this political nonsense. 

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AdamPervez
AdamPervez

LMAO. Republicans kill me. First they get angry that the food in our public schools was made healthier and reacted in an insane knee jerk screaming how the government should never tell an American what they can eat. And now.... they want to tell Americans what they can eat!  SMH


sickofitall12
sickofitall12

@AdamPervez get educated, it's not the republican fool, it's your own dadgum party selling you down the river, but you're too busy drinking the free kool aid to pay attention and get it right.  For once, do some research and use your own brain, if you even have one

cjhartl24
cjhartl24

@AdamPervez LMAO. Democrats kill me. First they tell me what I can't buy with my own money. Then those same people say everyone else should be able to buy whatever they want with my money.

MilesKubik
MilesKubik

@sickofitall12 @AdamPervez Maybe go take a look at the nonsense that happens with the food stamp program in Wisconsin where everything from potatoes to dry cereal that wasn't whole grain was banned and where that ban came from. 


Quite sad really that everyone holds themselves in some position above anyone in need of aid as though they're far superior because of that fact alone. Not everyone is sitting around enjoying sucking the system dry. 

JoshBaker
JoshBaker

Hey this is simple. You have ZERO rights when you are completely dependent on others to live. YOU are not ENTITLED to a damn thing. When you receive these benefits you should be forced to do community service. You should not get to choose what you want to buy, you should be given what you need to survive. I do not give you my tax dollars of my own free will. If It was up to me you would be living on bread and water. Guess what? If you decided to drop out of high school and then complain that you can't find a job. The fast food industry is always hiring. This nation is becoming a third world country because of this ENTITLEMENT attitude. If you do not work for it, you SHOULD NOT receive it. Is it that hard to understand? Why should you be able to stay home, get hi, and push out child after child just perpetuating the cycle on the taxpayers dime. 

It is really the people who stay on these benefits their whole lives that sicken me. Sure if you are down on your luck, you may receive benefits for a SHORT time. and those benefits should meet the most basic needs to survive.


morgan.goldberg
morgan.goldberg

@JoshBaker I guess the same logic would apply if you use public roads,buses,bridges,etc 

Maybe the more you make the more you pay for roads,bridges,etc

What about stay at home moms, corporate subsidies, and monopolies.

sickofitall12
sickofitall12

@MelissaKaptur @JoshBaker no -- here's a thought:  Food stamps are temporary, one or both you get a job, find a church to donates, family, friends, why do we taxpayers have to continue to pay for deadbeats..........unemployment is temporary, unless you're lazy.  

JoeSchreck
JoeSchreck

I was diagnosed with Guillian Barre in August. I was paralyzed from my face, down. I have worked hard to get back to walking, eating, talking. I have worked my entire life. I have also been a volunteer EMT for 3 years and will be starting paramedic school in January. I was recently given food stamps as I am now unable to work. Would you like to tell me what I can and can't eat? Would you like me to go do some community service? Should I stop using them in a SHORT period of time if I can not get back to full health? Do your homework on what I have, then rethink your statement. Yes there are scum that abuse this system. There are others who have no choice. Don't group us together. Think before you speak. I understand where you are coming from. Just step back and look at the bigger picture bro.

PageandPalate
PageandPalate

@JoshBaker Shame on you for sitting in judgment of others. I have paid into the system my entire life, as has my spouse. We have three college degrees between us and we both have had the same job for more than 10 years. We also have a child that we need to feed. We ARE entitled to this money, as long as we follow the rules that the USDA has set for EBT. And we are. Your comment is ignorant, pathetic and sad. 

MelissaKaptur
MelissaKaptur

@JoshBaker So, because my husband was laid off from a job that he worked at for several years, we should only be allowed to feed our children bread and water while he's looking for a new job???

MilesKubik
MilesKubik

@JoshBaker I don't use a number of things my taxes go for you're not specifically handing me money because I'm extremely ill and in need of food. You're not giving me anything and don't have any right to stand in some ivory tower talking about how people in need should only get the most minor amount of aid possible simply because you've never been in that position yourself. 


As someone who is severely ill and will more than likely not recover or get any better from my health issues does the fact that I am in need of aid sickening? I worked for years, have a college degree and have eaten through my savings trying to basically stay alive. I should live on bread and water alone for the rest of my life because a medical condition I have no control of suddenly hit me like a bus and ate away any money I had from previously working and keeping good finances? 


This mentality is truly disgusting...

RodinRetail
RodinRetail

Keep arguing about what people can buy with EBT, and never actually solve any problems with poverty or in the food and health industry. Good plan.


Folks, MOST of our tax dollars pay corporate subsidies. Don't you see that we're being distracted and made to blame people who can't defend themselves, for all our problems?

terryp84
terryp84

@BettySumerlin @RodinRetail    Really, Distraction?  I feel I am fairly up on what is happening in the world yet I am still bothered by those who feel the world owes them while contributing nothing, I don't feel that is being distracted. Don't confuse my disapproval of those abusing the system with those who have met a hard place in life and are in need of some temporary help, there is a major difference.  RodinRetail states that we shouldn't blame people who can't defend themselves I think that is a pretty low opionion of another person to state they cant even defend themselves I beleive most people are more capabile than that! Life sometimes throws a curveball and it is good we have programs in place to help when we just can't make the ends meet but this nation is also full of people abusing the system living off the sweat of others not contributing to society. 

BettySumerlin
BettySumerlin

@RodinRetail I couldn't agree more. Distraction from solving horrendous problems with just trying to exist. Many people are too busy being self-important to bother looking in that direction except for finger pointing.

AngelMaw
AngelMaw

Funny how you mention Walmart. A majority of Walmart's full time employees are food stamp recipients. Walmart also benefits from accepting food stamps. I am surprised they don't start a lobby to allow people to buy alcohol with EBT. Maybe they should start their charity with their employees by paying them  a living wage. Do the math on even if you make $12 hr; which is NOT what Wally World pays, you can still not survive. Now you want to tell people they can't have a candy bar. Pay people a living wage so they do not qualify for food stamps and step down from your ivory tower.

lilysoma
lilysoma

@AngelMaw  I started out at Walmart making $9/hr, within six months I made a little under $13/hr (this was 8years ago). Our Christmas bonuses were never less than $2000, but they were based on the annual sales of the individual store. Some of the department managers who had been there around the 10 year mark was making $17 - $20/hr then; so yeah a person CAN and DOES make money at Walmart. The people who never get raises based on merit are the ones you see walking around with their cell phones out texting or talking. The bonus is a good incentive for the associates to keep the store clean, the shelves stocked, and provide good service to the customers by knowing the products that are in your department. Unfortunately, I was stupid and went with a different company where I now am only bring home around $320/wk. I have about $20 for groceries each week, sometimes $30 on a good week. Try getting nutritious food, personal hygiene items, and paper products on that budget. I make $12 too much per month to qualify for anything. The state government only pays an office associate requiring an accounting degree $8.75/hour, but I never see your type complaining about anyone but Walmart.  Your argument is moot.

FawnWard
FawnWard

@lilysoma @AngelMaw  yes some people may be able to make some money at the walmart you work at but not all regions are the same. so lets think about this for a moment i Inever made more than 8.75 at walmart and we didnt get bonuses just a holiday party.


WillowWood
WillowWood

@lilysoma @AngelMaw 

I would love to know where your walmart was, because here in the Florida Panhandle walmart limits employees to part time, temporary, and  barely pays more than minimum wage. Furthermore when you finally get the time in to hire on as full time they lay you off for a week and restart you as a 90 day temporary employee. Furthermore it is against company policy(meaning immediate termination) if you have your cellphone outside of your locker area at walmart. I am not saying that what you say is untrue but I am saying it does not apply at every walmart. The store manager at our walmart here makes 12.55 an hour and he has the top paying position by far.


AubreyN
AubreyN

Stuart, you obviously didnt read my post. i will repeat part of it for you.  I don't smoke or drink. I don't have cable. At the moment, I don't even have hot water, as I don't have enough money to fill the propane tank. Also, since you are going to assume things, I am using the internet at the library. I also own a truck that we paid $1000 for. If you had read my post, you would also see that I was laid off and have since found a new job, I am only going to be on SNAP temporarily. I needed a little help to get by, but will NOT be reapplying. 


You completely missed the point of my post, attacking me personally instead of the subject at hand. This is about control. If the people in this forum are okay with SNAP being monitored, then they shouldn't mind if their child support, alimony, cash benefits  and SSI are monitored the same way. I mean, is the child support money REALLY going to the children? Or is it going to moms pedi/mani/hair day? Is that SSI really going towards necessities in life or is it being spent on alcohol and drugs?


My only point, was to say that not all people on SNAP are abusing the system.  Sometimes people just need help. Controlling what they buy, what does that really do? The money is still going towards their food benefits. Whether they buy chips and soda to live on or healthy meals, why is it anyones business. The ones you see buying junk are usually the ones that shouldn't  get food stamps in the first place. I also dont know about other states, but here in Oklahoma, if they see you buying too much "junk" they call you out on it and have a meeting with you. Your benefits can be revoked for not being used properly. They allow you to buy the junk items, but only so much before they intervene. To me, that is enough control from the government. It allows people to buy what they want, but its enough to make sure the person is also not buying only junk items. If they want to keep their food benefits, that is.

StuartE.HarveyJr
StuartE.HarveyJr

Aubrey et al... I am 60+ and have had to use Food Stamps and WIC to help get by, but as soon as I was able to, I quit collecting even though I was still eligible!! My thought was... there is most likely someone out there that could use these services more than me and my family. That being said, if you are online describing your plight, I guess that means you have high speed internet and probably a cell phone and perhaps cable TV, etc. These are luxury items and the money you spend on them will buy a LOT of food!!! Take a long hard look at your expenses!!! WHAT DO YOU REALLY NEED TO GET BY???!!! Electricity, water, gas (perhaps), land line phone to call for jobs etc. rent, food, and gas for your car! (ps - is your car a "lease", owned, or paid for?? If it's not paid for, get rid of it... buy a 'beater' / 'clunker' for a few hundred bucks til you get back on your feet... or take mass transit!! Your thoughts anyone??!!


PageandPalate
PageandPalate

@StuartE.HarveyJr Sorry, but your logic just doesn't fly. I am over 40 and have never had a car payment, nor has my husband. We both work and have had the same job for more than a decade. We haven't had cable in many years. We don't have fancy clothes, shoes or jewelry. We rarely go on dates, let alone on vacation. We don't eat out. As for high-speed Internet - here's a news flash: That is not longer a luxury. I have a job working from my home, which requires high speed Web service. Also, if you want to apply for a job these days, guess what? Employers want you to do it ONLINE. Might want to rethink your comment, as it is oversimplified and even somewhat judgmental.