Pennsylvania's food stamp program is for families that need help buying food to avoid hunger and malnourishment. Once a family qualifies for the program, based on factors such as financial resources and income, it can use the benefits to buy food products from grocery stores. In an effort to ensure the benefits go to helping recipients eat well and stay healthy, the state restricts the purchases a family can make with food stamps.
The food stamp program, known at the federal level and in Pennsylvania as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides recipients with a monthly allowance to use for food purchases. The state gives benefit recipients an Electronic Benefits Transfer Card, similar to a bankcard, which they swipe at the point of sale to make their purchases. The state assigns a family's benefits electronically, with each set of purchases coming out of the family's monthly amount. According to federal guidelines, participating stores may not permit the use of an EBT card for off-limits purchases.
Pennsylvania families may use food stamp benefits to buy most food products from supermarkets and similar stores. They also may buy seeds and plants to grow into food for the household. Certain food stamp recipients may use the benefits to pay for food that requires special service. For example, a disabled recipient may use the benefits to buy meals prepared by an authorized meal delivery service. Elderly recipients in group-living, drug addicts and alcoholics in a rehabilitation center, battered women and their children in a shelter and homeless recipients also may use benefits to buy prepared meals from their institution or a participating business.
Most recipients in Pennsylvania may not use food stamp benefits to buy hot foods prepared for immediate consumption. Also off limits are alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, pet food, paper products, household supplies, toiletries and medicines. If recipients previously purchased food on credit, they may not use food stamp benefits to pay their bill. Nor can they use benefits to make advance payment for food they will receive later, except for purchases from a non-profit food cooperative.
Junk food and luxury foods are eligible for purchase with food stamps in Pennsylvania and other states, according to the Food and Nutrition Service, the federal agency that establishes guidelines for SNAP. Energy drinks such as Gatorade are eligible, according to FNS guidelines, because they have a nutrition facts label. Other energy drinks, such as Red Bull, that have a supplement facts label are ineligible because the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as dietary supplements. Gift baskets are ineligible purchases unless the value of the food items in the basket is at least 50 percent of the price. On the other hand, birthday cakes are eligible unless non-edible decorations constitute more than 50 percent of the value.
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: How to Accept SNAP Benefits at Your Store; September 2010
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Eligible Food Items; October 2010
- Food and Nutrition Service. "SNAP Data Tables, Latest Available Month July 2019 State Level Participation & Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, August 2019," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
- USDA." What Can SNAP Buy?" Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
Jeffrey Nichols has been writing and editing since 1997. His work has appeared in the "Manassas (Va.) Journal Messenger" as well as daily publications in Pennsylvania and Illinois, covering sports, recreation, health and fitness, along with business and finance. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree and enjoys writing everything from practical articles to fiction.