Can You Buy Vitamins With EBT (SNAP/Food Stamps)?

EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer (also known colloquially as “food stamps”), is a product of a government-run program that allows SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants to receive a certain amount of money every month to help them pay for food. EBT is available and can be used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all other US territories (like Puerto Rico and Guam), and, as of 2022, helps over 41,500,000 participants provide for themselves and their families every month. 

EBT is a wonderful resource for those struggling to put food on the table, and many people who first receive these benefits may encounter some confusion over what can and can’t be bought with their new monthly stipends. Most people understand that they’re able to buy food with food stamps, but what about other nutritional support items, like vitamins?

In this article, we’ll talk more about what EBT benefits are, who qualifies for them, and answer the question of whether or not you can buy things like vitamins with them!

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The EBT program has been in effect in some form or other since 1939, when the original Food Stamp Program was initiated in order “to align growing food surpluses with a concern for the needs of the poor as the country emerged from the Great Depression.”  

After the original 1939 program was brought to an end in 1943 due to a reduced availability of food surpluses because of the conflict started by World War I and a decline in unemployment levels, it was once again revived by President John F. Kennedy with the passing of the Food Stamp Act of 1964. Since then, the program has continued to help millions of Americans feed their families every month. 

However, just because you receive SNAP benefits doesn’t mean you can use them to buy anything you may find in a grocery store. There are some restrictions on the types of items that your EBT card can cover. 

In this rest of this article, we’ll talk more about:

  • What EBT Is
  • Who Qualifies for EBT?
  • Can I Buy Vitamins?

By the end of this article, you should have a much more thorough understanding of what EBT benefits are and how you can utilize them in the most effective way to help you care for yourself and your family. 

What EBT Is

As previously stated, EBT is the method through which those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) receive their monthly benefits. 

Originally, in 1939, the food stamp program provided actual stamps for participants to exchange for food. Coming out of the Great Depression, there was a growing concern in the American psyche over the needs of the poor. The mission of the Food Stamp Program then was to align food surpluses in certain regions to go to those who needed them most—which just so happened to be the under-or unemployed. 

Participants were then able to purchase orange stamps for $1 each, which was capped at the typical monthly amount they would usually spend on food. For every orange stamp that was purchased, they also received a blue stamp worth 50 cents. Orange stamps could be used to buy any food, while the blue stamps were for foods that the USDA deemed as surplus. 

When the program ended and subsequently revived by JFK in 1964, the stamps were then replaced with food coupons and participants were still expected to buy their coupons just as those in the 1939 program were expected to buy their own stamps. 

It wasn’t until 2004 that we saw the emergence of the Food Stamp Program as we see it today—with participants applying for benefits with their local state offices and receiving funds on a plastic card that was reminiscent of a debit card and could be used in the same way. 

Though many conflate the two, EBT and SNAP are not exactly the same. SNAP is the name of the welfare program itself, while EBT refers to the method these benefits are distributed (the plastic debit-like card). 

Who Qualifies for EBT?

Anyone who feels they have a need and can’t afford to put food on the table is eligible to apply for benefits. 

SNAP benefits are intended to supplement a household’s monthly budget for the purchase of food items. Those who apply supply their monthly income to their local state agency, and that income is then viewed in light of the applicant’s other necessary monthly costs (like fuel and shelter) and also what their employment situation is like. 

Their total monthly costs are then deducted from their income to determine a net income, which is then used to calculate a monthly award amount.

A table of the income limits set forth by the SNAP program can be found here.

Can I Buy Vitamins with EBT?

As previously mentioned, SNAP benefits are intended to help individuals and families supplement their income to help put food on the table. And when they say “food,” they mean it!

This means that if you receive benefits, you can use them to purchase the things that you would generally find somewhere on the food pyramid, such as: 

  • Fruits and vegetables;
  • Meat, poultry, and fish;
  • Dairy products;
  • Breads and cereals;
  • Other foods such as snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages; and
  • Seeds and plants, which produce food for the household to eat.

This also means that there are a multitude of things you may find in the store that won’t be covered, such as:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco
  • Any item that has a “Supplement Facts” label
  • Live animals (except shellfish, fish removed from water, and animals slaughtered prior to pick-up from the store).
  • Foods that are hot at the point of sale
  • Any nonfood items such as:
    – Pet foods  
    – Cleaning supplies, paper products, and other household supplies.
    – Hygiene items, cosmetics

Unfortunately, since things like vitamins come with a Supplement Facts label, they fall under the “supplement” category—not food—and so are unable to be purchased with your EBT card.

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