According to the Food Research and Action Center, 42.9 million people in the U.S. received benefits from the food stamp program in September 2010. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the food stamp program, which is also called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The goal of this program is to help prevent malnutrition and hunger by providing benefits to eligible low-income families.
Receiving Food Stamps
Individuals who receive food stamps do not get paper coupons or stamps anymore. As of 2004, all participants in this program use an electronic benefits transfer card, which works similar to debit cards. Those who receive food stamps have money deposited into an EBT account on a monthly basis. The money received varies by household.
To receive food stamps, the Social Security Administration states an individual must be a U.S. citizen, immigrant who is legally in the country, a refugee or an asylee. An asylee is an individual who was granted asylum in the U.S. A household must meet the income limitations and have "countable" resources that total no more than $2,000, according to the USDA. Everyone in the household must have a Social Security number. Students in college who participate in a federal work-study program for at least 20 hours per week, receive Title IV-A program benefits, care for a child who is a dependent or are a single parent who attends school full time.
Goods Food Stamp Participants Can Purchase
According to the USDA website, an individual can only use food stamps to purchase food, edible plants and seeds to grow fruits and vegetables. Most supermarkets and convenient stores accept food stamps, as do participating vendors at farmers markets. Food stamp recipients can also use food stamps to purchase baby formula, spices, distilled water and health foods, such as organic produce. In some rural areas of Alaska, according to Alaska's Division of Public Assistance, people can use their food stamps to purchase fishing and hunting gear such as fishing line, nets, rods, hooks, harpoons and knives. Households in Alaska eligible to purchase hunting and fishing equipment with food stamps have a specially marked EBT card.
Goods Food Stamp Participants Cannot Purchase
The USDA website states a person cannot use food stamps to purchase pet food, alcoholic beverages, energy drinks, hot food and food that the individual will eat inside the store. Food stamp beneficiaries also cannot purchase household supplies such as soap or cooking utensils with SNAP benefits. The USDA states those receiving food stamps cannot trade the benefits for nonfood items or to acquire cash back from an EBT card to buy illegal drugs or other nonfood items.