Surprising Items SNAP Benefits Do Not Cover

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According to the latest available data, 41.5 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, with an average benefit amount of $217.33 per person. These benefits cover a wide variety of food items, including fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, breads, cereals, snack foods and nonalcoholic beverages. But there are a number of items SNAP benefits do not cover.

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Here’s a look at the items you cannot buy using SNAP benefits.

What Items Can You Not Buy With SNAP Benefits?

According to the USDA, the following items are excluded from SNAP benefits:

  • Beer, wine and liquor
  • Cigarettes and tobacco
  • Vitamins, medicines and supplements. The USDA notes that “if an item has a Supplement Facts label, it is considered a supplement and is not eligible for SNAP purchase.”
  • Live animals, with the exception of shellfish, fish removed from water and animals slaughtered prior to pick-up from the store.
  • Foods that are hot at the point of sale
  • Pet foods
  • Cleaning supplies, paper products and other household supplies
  • Hygiene items and cosmetics
Make Your Money Work for You

Food Items You Cannot Buy With SNAP Benefits

SNAP benefits only cover “staple foods,” so some food items do not qualify. As noted above, “foods that are hot at the point of sale” are excluded from SNAP benefits. This includes coffee, tea, soup, roast or fried chicken, and
pizza.

Also excluded are heated foods — foods cooked or heated on-site by the retailer before or after purchase. This includes items like pizza, if it is sold cold and then baked or heated; chicken, if it is sold cold, frozen or uncooked and then cooked or heated; and seafood, such as fish, shrimp, crabs or other shellfish, if it is sold cold, frozen or live and then cooked, steamed or heated.

Cold prepared foods are also not covered by SNAP. These include any food that is made or prepared by the retailer, is sold cold and requires no additional preparation for immediate consumption. This includes items like fresh salads, fruit cups, salad bar items, sandwiches, meat and/or cheese platters, prepared meats or seafood, and soft-serve or scooped ice cream served in cups, bowls or cones.

Make Your Money Work for You

How To Save Money on Items Not Covered by SNAP Benefits

Because some of the items on your shopping list may not be covered by SNAP, it’s wise to use other tactics to save money at the grocery store. Some ways to save on groceries include:

  • Opt for generic or store brands
  • Save and use coupons
  • Sign up for store loyalty programs
  • Comparison shop for items across stores
  • Stock up on discounted items that you know you will use later

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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