The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — now known as SNAP and formerly called food stamps — gives low-income residents help to purchase nutritious foods in states across the country. While the parameters largely are the same from coast to coast, they can differ from region to region.
In the wide swath of the country categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the Midwest, how and where you can use those benefits varies by state rules. And what you might buy depends on even more local tastes and regulations, too. From the Dakotas to Wisconsin, from Missouri to Michigan and Minnesota, residents will utilize their benefits differently.
Pizza in Chicago
Chicago, the unofficial capital of the Midwest, is legendary for its deep-dish pizza. But because SNAP regulations don’t allow users to buy heated, prepared foods, you can’t take home a fresh, hot pizza using your benefits.
Still, Midwest residents can pay for a pizza with SNAP at Papa Murphy’s. That’s because the chain’s pizza is served take-and-bake style. The restaurant staff puts the pizza together, and you take it home and put it in the oven.
Papa Murphy’s has locations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The Midwest is a hub for crops. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the region has 127 million acres of agricultural land. While corn and soybeans are the prominent crops, the Midwest also produces green beans, a variety of berries and cherries, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, oats, peaches, peas, watermelons and more.
Farmers markets throughout the Midwest allow growers to sell their products straight from farm to consumer, and more and more markets are accepting SNAP as payment.
Some farmers markets double the value of your SNAP money, so using $5 of benefits translates into $10 of fresh fruits and vegetables. Ask your farmers market whether it accepts SNAP and has a matching program.
North Dakota Juneberry Pie
SNAP recipients might choose to use their benefits to buy treats, such as cakes, donuts, muffins and other baked goods. That means the North Dakota Juneberry Pie qualifies — it’s a favorite of residents of the Dakotas.
Midwest Living magazine says pies “featuring the berry bake a deep purply red and bring a nutty almond flavor to every fork full.” Sellers at local farmers markets often have the pies at their booths.
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels is a federally subsidized program that provides healthy foods for seniors. According to the organization, the Older Americans Act pays for about one-third of the cost of meals, with both local communities and “private resources” being called on to cover the rest.
In some Midwestern states, such as North Dakota and Minnesota, seniors can use their SNAP benefits. In North Dakota, group homes and senior citizen meal sites also can enroll to accept SNAP.
Meals in a Box
We’ve all seen the ads for meal-delivery services like Hello Fresh. While you can’t pay for that with SNAP, residents in parts of Illinois can enjoy the local equivalent, Top Box Foods. The company shops for the best deals on frozen meats, poultry and fish, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, then bundles the nutritious ingredients in a box and delivers them to you — SNAP accepted. The service currently is limited to residents of Chicago/Cook County and Rockford, Ill.
Dining in a restaurant and paying with SNAP isn’t exactly a snap, but it can be done under certain conditions and on a very limited basis in the Midwest. Illinois and Michigan are the only states to participate in the Restaurant Meals Program in the region; to qualify, you must be 60 or older, disabled or homeless.
In Illinois, the program is in the pilot phase and is limited to Dewitt County, Franklin County and select ZIP codes in Cook County. Michigan is still accepting applications from more restaurants seeking to participate.
No matter how you choose to use your SNAP benefits in the Midwest, it’s best to call ahead to a grocery store, farmers market or restaurant before going — to make sure the retailer, vendor or restaurant is a participant in the plan.
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