EBT Card Restrictions

by Valerie Tandoi
EBT cards can be used to buy items in a grocery store, but there are some limitations.

Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards are given to low-income families to buy food through a government-run assistance program called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Since 2004, the EBT card has replaced food stamps in every U.S. state. Food stamps and the EBT card serve the same purpose, but the EBT card gives more privacy to users, as it can be swiped through a credit card reader the same way that a debit or credit card can. Although the EBT card provides more convenience, there are still restrictions in place regarding what the EBT card can be used to purchase.

Toiletries and Paper Products

The goal of the SNAP program is for families to be able to afford to eat even if they are going through hard times. Thus, EBT cards can only be used to purchase food and cannot be used to purchase other household items even if the items may seem like basic necessities. Items such as paper towels, napkins and shampoo can not be purchased with an EBT Card since they are not edible. People must pay for these items with cash, a debit card or a credit card. Families who cannot afford these items can look to food banks in their area that may offer these items for free, or can turn to a local church for donations.

Tobacco, Liquor and Energy Drinks

Tobacco, liquor and beer of any kind cannot be purchased with an EBT card, even in states that sell these items in grocery stores. Cigarettes and tobacco simply do not make the eligible list because they can not be consumed. Although beer and alcohol can be consumed, they are on a listed off banned items mandated by the SNAP program. Some items, such as energy drinks, are tricky to categorize. Energy drinks that have nutritional value on the label the same way that other food and drinks do can be purchased with an EBT card. However, if a particular brand of energy drink advertises itself as a supplement, the Food and Drug Administration does not count it as a food. and therefore it cannot be purchased with an EBT card.

Pet Food

The EBT card can only be used to buy FDA-approved food that people can consume. Pet food is on the EBT card restricted list and must be paid for in another manner. Families may be able to turn to local charities to find food for their pets if they can no longer afford to purchase any. If a family gets in a difficult situation in which they no longer feel financially able to care for a pet, they can also look for a no-kill shelter to turn their pet over to, so another loving family can adopt the animal.

Hot Food

EBT cards are meant to purchase food that can be taken home and prepared. Sometimes grocery stores may sell hot items in the deli, such as chicken or Chinese food. EBT cards cannot be used to purchase these items. Some stores may also have a soft pretzel stand or a fast food restaurant inside them, EBT use is also restricted in these scenarios. There may be some rare cases where disabled, homeless or elderly people can use an EBT card at select restaurants. This varies state to state. Anyone who is new to receiving EBT benefits should speak to a state worker in his area to see if he qualifies.

About the Author

Valerie Tandoi began writing professionally in 2004. She has been published in various print and online media outlets including: "New Jersey Business Magazine," "South Jersey Mom Magazine," "ASA-Dix Newspaper," "Happy Woman Magazine" and others. She also creates print and Web content for businesses. Tandoi holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Caldwell College and currently lives in New Jersey.

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