Through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), low-income Americans can get help with their monthly grocery bills. The goal of SNAP, previously called the food stamp program, is to help put nutritious food on the table. SNAP funds are put onto an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, and recipients use the card to pay for groceries in the same way they’d use a debit card.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, stipulates how the money can be spent. It’s intended for foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, dairy, some snacks, bread and cereals.[x] You can’t buy alcohol, tobacco, prepared meals, medicine, pet food, personal-care items or paper products using SNAP benefits.
While the rules seem clear, residents on the West Coast can use their SNAP benefits for more than staples at a traditional grocery store. Here are six non-traditional ways to spend SNAP funds on the West Coast.
Farmers Market Fare
Craving some Washington apples, California grapes, Oregon pears? With your SNAP benefits — they’re called CalFresh in California, incidentally — you can get your favorite fruits and vegetables, picked fresh, at farmers markets. Many markets across each state accept your EBT cards to buy items that also include meat and fish, jams and jellies, bread, dairy, poultry, syrup and honey.
In all three states, when you use your EBT card for certain products, many markets will offer a matching program. If you redeem $5 of your EBT benefits, for example, you’ll get an extra $5 to spend.
Jack in the Box
Iconic San Diego-based Jack in the Box participates in California’s Restaurant Meals Program, which allows recipients of CalFresh benefits who are 60 and older, disabled or homeless to buy prepared meals with their EBT cards.
Jack in the Box isn’t the only restaurant where you can use your benefits. Others include Subway, Del Taco, Pizza Hut, El Pollo Loco and Waba Grill. Not all locations participate, so ask before ordering.
California and Arizona are the only states in the West that offer the Restaurant Meals Program.
Hunting and Fishing Gear
This one comes with an asterisk: *In Alaska.
Residents of the 49th state can use their SNAP benefits to buy specific equipment if they meet both of these requirements: They reside in a community with limited access to retail stores, and they largely rely on fishing and hunting to live.
SNAP recipients who want to take advantage of this benefit must provide a statement of their intention to use the gear toward feeding themselves and their families. Once approved, they’ll be able to use the benefits to buy equipment that includes nets, lines, hooks, fishing rods, harpoons, knives and ice augers, according to the state. Firearms and ammunition are not eligible.
Food Gift Baskets
You can use your SNAP benefits to buy gift baskets as long as they primarily contain food. For example, an Easter basket with a giant stuffed bunny surrounded by a few chocolates wouldn’t be eligible. But a basket of fruit that has a small non-food token would, according to the USDA.
You can use your EBT benefits on Amazon to buy some West Coast favorites, such as the Golden State Fruit Chocolate Covered Strawberries or the California Delicious Ultimate Meat and Cheese Gift Crate.
Washington Salmon and West Coast Oysters
Stores such as butcher and seafood shops in all 50 states are eligible to accept EBT cards as long as they meet certain criteria set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fish and meat must be cold and not prepared in store to qualify.
Fred Meyer, Vons and Safeway are among the West Coast chains that have in-house bakeries. Getting married? Order your wedding cake at one of these stores and pay for it with your EBT benefits.
As long as the value of the trinkets on the cake, such as the plastic figurines of the wedding couple, don’t exceed 50% of the price of the cake, it qualifies, according to the website Frugal Reality.
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