SNAP benefits
February 9, 2015 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Have you received SNAP benefits or do you know a lot about them? I have some questions.

Those questions being:

Do most major grocery chains accept SNAP benefits? Are there any that don't? I am specifically curious about Trader Joe's. (I saw a list of grocery stores but did not see Trader Joe's in PA, where I am. I am also wondering if there are specific grocery chains or types of groceries that do not accept SNAP)

I know that hot foods cannot be purchased using SNAP benefits, but can pre-prepared foods be? (i.e. sushi in a container, salads, etc).

Any other tips on using SNAP benefits in general?

(I did read the info on the government welfare website, and it answered some of my questions but not these specific ones).
posted by bearette to Law & Government (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is a retailer locator for SNAP. If you put in the address of the specific store you're interested in, it should come up on the list if it's a retailer. I checked the Trader Joe's at 2121 Market St in Philadelphia and it did come up.

This page has some info as to what's eligible - food designed to be eaten on the premises is not eligible, which is why hot food isn't, but the excel sheet linked at the bottom has both "PREPARED SANDWICHES, COLD, FOR OFF PREMISES CONSUMPTION" and "SALAD BAR FOODS, COLD, FOR OFF PREMISES CONSUMPTION" as eligible items. Most packaged sushi would fall under the packaged, prepared food designed to be eaten off-premises too.
posted by brainmouse at 4:00 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can buy cold deli foods and sushi and things like that. You can't buy hot deli foods with it. I have yet to go into a grocery store that does not accept them, even places I feared might not because they seemed snobby and upscale. You can use them at places like Target and Walmart too to purchase groceries. Some farmer's markets also accept them, though I have not used them that way.

Any other tips on using SNAP benefits in general?

At least in California, using your SNAP benefits to buy colas means you don't pay the tax on colas. Most food here is not taxed, but colas are. Using SNAP to pay for them gives you an extra savings.

In 2012, San Diego County launched a restaurant meals program to allow people with SNAP to use their benefits at participating restaurants as a means to get hot food, in part out of concern that homeless individuals have difficulty getting hot meals: Restaurant Meals Program. So you could consider calling your local food stamp office or doing some googling to see if there is a similar initiative there.
posted by Michele in California at 4:16 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

In Seattle most farmer's markets will match up to $10 of your SNAP benefits. You can check to see if markets where you are have a similar program.
posted by sevenless at 4:37 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

7-11 accepts SNAP. The one near me in SF has signs on the shelves saying so.
posted by zippy at 4:42 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

As far as tips for eating on SNAP go, I really love cooking from Leanne Brown's SNAP cookbook, Good & Cheap (.pdf link).
posted by elmer benson at 5:02 PM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

SNAP tip 1: if you try to buy something that snap doesn't cover, it will just ask you for another form of payment. So you don't have to separate your stuff at the counter or anything like that.

SNAP tip 2: If anyone tries to make you feel awkward or bad about what you're buying, ignore them. It's none of their business. This never happened to me but I've heard about it happening to others.
posted by bleep at 5:04 PM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have received SNAP benefits in the past and I have a lot of friends who currently receive them in many different states. The vast majority of grocery stores do take SNAP. I know a lot of people, for example, who buy some of their groceries at Whole Foods (which is, like, exactly the kind of place I think people don't typically associate with SNAP). If you're wondering about Trader Joe's near where you live, I would just call up your local store and ask 'em. It'll only take a minute and then you'll know for sure. In my area, they do accept SNAP (but not WIC).

I have run into some confusion in grocery stores about purchasing prepared, cold foods. At some stores, I was able to purchase sushi for example or cold sandwiches. At another store, I had a cashier lecture me and say it was against the rules. I could never figure it out, but honestly those prepared foods were so expensive that it usually wasn't smart for me to buy them with my limited SNAP benefits anyway.

One thing that I think surprises a lot of people who have never been on SNAP is that nowadays you are given a swipe card with a pin number. You can swipe it like you would a debit card, basically. I usually gave the cashier a heads up -- flashed the card and said "I'll be using EBT, by the way" so that they didn't press "Credit" or "Debit" on their end before I got started.
posted by pinetree at 5:11 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah and definitely check out your local farmer's market. In my city, you go to a specific tent to swipe your SNAP card to "purchase" tokens that you can hand over to farmers at the market. The best part? $1 of your SNAP benefits counts as $2 in tokens, so you can get $20 worth of groceries for just $10 of your SNAP budget. It's a wonderful and very generous program to encourage SNAP beneficiaries to eat healthy and local.
posted by pinetree at 5:15 PM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

you go to a specific tent to swipe your SNAP card to "purchase" tokens that you can hand over to farmers at the market.

And from my experience, that tent/stall is generally also for people who want to swipe a debit card in exchange for tokens, so paying with tokens doesn't single you out as a SNAP recipient. Not that people at farmers' markets generally pay attention to that.
posted by holgate at 5:21 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason you're specifically into prepared foods? You can make your benefits go way further by buying less expensive although more labor intensive foodsuffs.

Also, you can coupon in conjunction with SNAP, so check out the coupons associated with your supermarket loyalty card, or in the newspaper. Some you add electronically to your loyalty card, so you don't have to clip anything.

Watch the sales on meat. Sometimes you can get whole chickens or 'hind quarters' for under a dollar a pound. Wrap and freeze for later.

My Kroger marks down meat as it approaches the sell-by date, sometimes by half. I scored Grassfed Ground beef the other day. So be on the look out for dented cans and mark downs. It's usually on a shelf at the back of the store. All supermarkets have this, just ask someone where it is. I got natural, organic peanut butter for $1.99 a jar. I bought all they had. Do check the expiration dates, mine were months into the future, so I'm good. You can use coupons on this stuff.

Wait for BOGO (buy one, get one) on things, typically rice mixes, canned goods, tuna, etc. You can use coupons in addition to the BOGO or sale price and get some stuff for free or for dirt cheap. Know which markets double coupons.

Check for staples in places like CVS and Walgreens. They sell some shelf stable foods and if you have a manufacturers coupon AND you have a store coupon, you can use both together.

Cooking from scratch really makes your SNAP go further and often it's not that difficult. If you can give us some insight into what your circumstances are, we can offer some better hacks and ideas.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:49 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is probably illegal, so don't do it: if you're desperate for toilet paper or deodorant or something SNAP doesn't pay for, offer to buy your cash-having buddy some grocery item with EBT on your next trip, and have them reimburse you. It's my opinion that some items-- tampons, for example!-- ought to be provided for in the same manner as food, so to me it's morally OK, especially since the actual monies received did go to food. But it's up to you to decide.

If you have Safeway, their club card accrues valuable gas points at the same rate regardless of the method of payment. You can barter the gas for rides if you need to. You can also take advantage of the buy-X-sandwiches, get one free deal with the card.

Depending on where you are, some fast food places take EBT/SNAP. In San Francisco Subway and Pizza Hut both do. And there are usually other benefits that go with SNAP-- if you qualify for SNAP, you will likely be able to get a reduced-cost transit pass, for example. It's worth asking your city, local charity, or food bank.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:07 PM on February 9, 2015

This is probably illegal, so don't do it: if you're desperate for toilet paper or deodorant or something SNAP doesn't pay for, offer to buy your cash-having buddy some grocery item with EBT on your next trip, and have them reimburse you

That's totally illegal and can get you removed from the program (permanently).

The only LEGAL way to turn a portion of your benefits into cash: Keep the bottles from drinks you purchase, turn them in for the recycling money. It's not much, but it is completely legal. SNAP covers the recycling charge and then you can get it back as cash.

If you are really desperate for tampons and the like, recycling money and a dollar store (Dollar Tree, 99 cents store, etc) are a better way to go. Or look for your local "women's center" which may help out with things like tampons if you are poor enough to qualify for SNAP.
posted by Michele in California at 6:14 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can also shop at Costco, if you're really creative at managing a budget over a couple of months, what with the large quantities and therefore prices there.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 6:28 PM on February 9, 2015

I was coming in here to link to USDA's web pages like a good little FNS minion, but I see brainmouse has already beat me to it!

Here's some PA specific outreach information from FNS.

All of the Trader Joe's that are local to me accept EBT and I would assume this is the case nationwide. And you don't have to alert them beforehand. It's all done on the keypad when you select payment type--there are EBT options right along with debit and credit.

There are currently 55 farmers markets in PA that accept SNAP benefits; you can find a list of them here.

And if you are able to cook then you may be able to to further your SNAP benefits with assistance from a local food bank.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:40 PM on February 9, 2015

I had SNAP benefits in Seattle and I used my card at Trader Joe's and never had any issues, I think quite a few customers must use their benefits there. I was really happy to learn that I didn't have to worry about separating out non-eligible items and the people at TJ's (and everywhere else) are friendly and casual about prompting you to use a second method of payment for the remaining balance on non-eligible items. Customers behind me never seemed to notice or care and I'm pretty sensitive to stuff like that.

The one place I had problems trying to use my card was a couple times at Whole Foods. (Like WF isn't already fraught with enough judgement...) Of course, that's not a great store to shop to stretch your benefits but occasionally I would go there because they had an ingredient I couldn't find elsewhere and they DO take EBT, but didn't seem to care that their system rejected my card. It made me suspect they just don't want EBT users to shop there, but that's probably paranoia.

One thing I used my benefits on was to stock up on better olive oil and balsamic vinegar than I could afford without my food stamps. I was worried the cashier judged me for purchasing them but you know what? I proved my eligibility, I cooked all my damn meals and was frugal as heck, and it was awesome to have really nice oil and vinegar to dress up the fresh food I bought. 5 years later I still have the fancy balsamic vinegar I bought, so cost per use made it a great purchase. Just something you might not immediately think of, and it's obviously a one-time splurge, but coupled with farmers market credits it might be doable one month.

My best advice is to not let anyone shame you for what you buy with your benefits. If you decide to buy cold prepared food with them (by the way, stores seem to have different definitions of what is allowed so don't hesitate to ask), that's your choice. People using SNAP benefits don't owe anyone to use coupons, buy the cheapest cuts of meat, or choose cheaper stores. There's way too much judgement made about food assistance. You're not abusing the system if you don't always buy the cheapest food, so don't sweat it. The good news is, no one in the grocery store ever said anything to me and cashiers never seemed to care. That makes it easier to make the decision that's right for you.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:42 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I spend about $50 worth of my benefits at Whole Foods every month and have never had any more problem there than anywhere, meaning none at all. It's not in their control to decide what their register counts as eligible. The only thing you can't buy there, and I've bought all sorts of items from their selection, are the teas from their tea section marketed as "health supplement teas", and some similar bulk spice items considered more medicinal rather than culinary herbs, as well as their prepared foods. I've never had any cashier take issue with me, or be anything other than friendly, which of course would be silly, since if anyone is supposed to understand the importance of ones diet to health and wellness, it's people working at Whole Foods. Mostly I buy my one dozen a month of pasture eggs, pasture butter, and a few either odd items, and spend the rest of my money at Trader Joe's.
posted by Blitz at 9:31 PM on February 9, 2015

I never had an issue when I was using it a few years ago, except at like one Indian grocer in Pittsburgh.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:44 AM on February 10, 2015

A boyfriend of mine was on SNAP for several months. We shopped at the same time but purchased separately, and were never on the receiving end of any judgments. If a cashier said something snide, you would be well-served to walk to the courtesy desk after completing your purchase and ask to speak to a manager. Grocers do not care where their money comes from-whether it's your bank account or the state's, they get paid exactly the same. It's not in a cashier's best interests, career-wise, to be rude or judgmental to benefits recipients.

I mean, the cashier doesn't even know you have SNAP until you pull out the card (which looks just like any other debit/credit card) to pay and hit the EBT button. Don't trouble yourself about it.
posted by Rach3l at 5:59 PM on February 24, 2015

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