Baby formula is one of the essential things that many mothers and families need to consider when they are calculating their grocery bill costs. If they’re on food stamps, they might wonder whether they can pay for a baby formula using their benefits. But it’s tricky to know off the top of your head because you have to ask: does baby formula count as regular food? Let’s tackle this question and a bunch more today.
Can you use Food Stamps on Baby Formula?
Now the big question: can you buy baby formula with food stamps? Because baby formula is directly used for the nutrition of an infant, baby formula is an eligible food item under the SNAP program (more on the SNAP program later). You can buy as much baby formula as you like with food stamps until you run out of benefits.
What About Other Baby Food?
Other baby foods are also eligible for food stamps. These are things like cereals or oatmeal intended to be consumed by a baby, or other baby specific foods like apple mash or similar products. Juice and other drinks that infants or small children may frequently consume also qualify under SNAP.
How About Other Baby Materials?
You might also be wondering, can you buy diapers with food stamps? Other baby materials, medicine or nonfood items are not eligible under your EBT card benefits (more on the EBT later). The EBT card is only intended to be used for food alone, so you’ll need to rely on other government programs or other sources of income to meet these needs.
What is SNAP?
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In a nutshell, it's a nutrition program overseen and distributed by the federal government to help low-income people meet their nutritional needs. It’s also what most people refer to as “food stamps”.
The “stamps” in that name came from the original incarnation of the program when people were given paper food stamps in order to exchange at the grocery. But this original iteration saw a lot of abuse because people could sell their food stamps for money, drugs or alcohol rather than using them for food.
The federal government decided to change the program to use an electronic card instead.
The History of SNAP
The original incarnation of SNAP was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. This allowed the federal government to distribute farm supplies at discounted prices and distribute them to those in need in the midst of the Great Depression.
Later, the Food Stamp Program was implemented in 1939 under Pres. Franklin D Roosevelt as part of his New Deal. This allowed food assistance to be made available to low-income individuals, as they could use these paper stamps to buy food and other household items, including soap, matches, and clothing supplies. However, this program ended in 1943 when the 1940s and 50s came around and the Great Depression officially ended.
Interestingly, the original variations of this program allowed to those who qualified by nonfood items. These days, you can’t get away with this because of program misuse.
It wasn't until 1961 when the program was reintroduced. It later evolved into the modern incarnation through the 70s all the way to the 2000s, when participation in the program increased dramatically and eligibility was extended to any qualified immigrants or children 18 years old or younger.
What is EBT?
These days, SNAP benefits are provided to anyone who qualifies using a plastic card known as an electronic benefit transfer card, or EBT card. This works just like a debit card, where it has a set amount of value or federal “stamp money” that you can use in exchange for nutritional food at the grocery store.
It's distinct from a welfare assistance program because you don't get direct cash. You can only use an EBT card at a grocery store participating in the program and for certain items. While the actual limit on what you can use the card for is fairly broad given the original intent of the program, it still prevents people from misusing the card like they used to misuse the paper stamps.
Where Can You Use SNAP EBT Cards?
EBT cards are used in all 50 states including US territories like Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgin Islands. You can use them at the vast majority of grocery stores and other convenience stores in the United States, as most of these participate in the SNAP program for certain tax benefits and other income advantages.
You can also use EBT cards at certain farmers markets that participate in the program for the aforementioned benefits. This allows people who are on food stamps to receive nutritional food straight from farmers.
How Can You Tell If You’re Eligible for SNAP?
The eligibility requirements for SNAP assistance depends on the state guidelines, so they vary from place to place. However, these guidelines are usually determined by income for total households rather than for individuals. They are also adjusted based on the number of dependents that an applicant has, like children.
For example, Iowan SNAP requirements are:
- your household has to have a gross monthly income less than $150 and less than $100 in financial resources, like cash or money in a bank account, OR
- your household rent, mortgage, and utilities need to be more than your gross monthly income and assets, OR
- your household has a migrant or seasonal farmworker with assets of less than or equal to $100 or someone whose income is stopping or starting
You can usually visit your state’s federal benefits program to see if you qualify for SNAP and other forms of assistance. You do not necessarily need to be a US citizen in order to be eligible for the program, although this policy varies from state to state.
Additionally, students may be able to take advantage of SNAP benefits if they get public assistance from another program, work at least 20 hours per week, and are taking care of another household dependent under the age of six.
You send in an application to your state’s benefits office, along with records of all your income, past and prior work experiences, and records of all your bills. These include averages for groceries, and statements from your bank account if you have one. The benefits office reviews your application and determines whether you are eligible for EBT card benefits within a few weeks to a month in most cases.
What Can You Buy with Food Stamps?
As opposed to eligibility guidelines, what you can and can’t buy with food stamps is universal regardless of your state. The most recent update to the program says that you can buy:
- foods intended for eating by your household. These include items like bread and cereals, meat, fish and poultry, fruits and vegetables, dairy products
- any seeds or plants that will produce food for your household to eat
That’s it! However, the food items described above don't necessarily need to be fresh or healthy. Technically speaking, soft drinks, cookies, candy, and ice cream are all food items and are particular favorites for kids or those with sweet teeth. You can use your SNAP benefits to purchase these items.
You can also use your benefits to purchase so-called “luxury” food items like seafood, steak or cakes from a bakery. The SNAP program is not intended to limit the quality of the food you consume; it’s intended to help people overcome starvation and still enjoy food, after all.
There are a few other technicalities with this program. For instance, any energy drink that has a nutrition facts label is eligible for the program. Energy drinks or other supplements that only have a supplement facts label, on the other hand, are technically not food items and are not eligible for the benefits.
What Can’t You Buy with Food Stamps?
You’re very limited in terms of what you can’t buy with food stamps. Any nonfood items like pet food, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, vitamins, and medicines, or any spirits or vices like alcohol or cigarettes are ineligible for use with the SNAP program.
Additionally, you’re barred from using your EBT card for any foods that will be in the store and any premade “hot foods”. This means you can’t go to the market at Costco and use your SNAP card to get a hot dog there.
Furthermore, you can’t buy live animals with your EBT card, with the exception of life fish you intend to eat, like lobsters or shellfish.
So, there’s good news from others and any family that has a little one in need of baby formula. If you’re covered under SNAP in any capacity, you can use your EBT card to pay for baby formula as much as you need. You can also use it to pay for other types of baby food to make sure that your infant gets the nutrition they need to grow healthily. It’s just a bummer that you can’t use it to pay for other necessities like diapers. Maybe the program will adjust again in the future and incorporate nonfood items like it did when it was first introduced!