Can I Buy Vitamins With My SNAP Card? What You Need to Know about Supplements and SNAP
If you have a SNAP card or are eligible for one, you may have several questions regarding your benefits. Common questions include which foods are eligible with a SNAP benefits card, where can I use my card, and, more specifically, “Can I buy vitamins with my SNAP card?”
Regarding vitamins, the quick answer is no, not quite yet. Vitamins and dietary supplements are not covered with SNAP, but there is an effort to include them soon.
For more information about the programs, including vitamin updates, eligible food, accepted retailers, and new pandemic efforts, keep reading.
SNAP Program Overview
Many Americans struggle to put food on their plates. While many individuals can rely on strong support systems to help provide meals—such as family, friends, or local organizations—so many more do not have help. The pandemic has increased financial hardships and made feeding families a more difficult task, but the good news is that there is government assistance for anyone struggling.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, most commonly known as SNAP, comes in handy. The federal program (previously known as food stamps) helps feed millions of low-income Americans who otherwise struggle to feed themselves and their family. It is the largest nutrient program and is estimated to help feed 9.5 million families with children.
Getting a SNAP card helps people buy nutritious food and fuel their bodies properly. The program ensures that children are set up to have healthy adulthoods and that seniors can afford to eat as healthily as working adults and live comfortably. SNAP ensures no one goes hungry.
What Food Is Eligible With the SNAP Card?
The USDA states “any food for the household” as eligible, but that leaves many unsure of miscellaneous-type food, such as restaurant orders, alcohol, and vitamins. To get a thorough understanding of what qualifies, keep reading. We give detailed lists of accepted and ineligible food and key things you should know about your benefits, card, and more.
Food for the household is covered with SNAP benefits. You may be wondering what food falls into this broad definition, so here is an extensive list of what it entails.
- Produce like fruits and vegetables (in any form, such as canned, fresh, etc.)
- Dairy products
- Meat, fish, and poultry
- Plants and seeds that produce food
Acceptable food is considered “Staple Food,” and the USDA has an exhaustive guideline of items that your EBT card will support. Click here to read their overview on Staple Food.
While the definition of acceptable food may be vague, the USDA is clear on what you may not buy with SNAP. See below for a comprehensive list of ineligible food and products.
- Alcoholic products including liquor, wine, beer
- Tobacco products
- Dietary supplements and any product with a Supplement Facts label
- Live animals except for fish and shellfish available at grocery stores
- Products not meant to be eaten, such as household and hygiene supplies, makeup, and pet food.
There are some gray areas, though, and these may vary from city to city. Hot ready-made food from restaurants is one example since some cities, but not all, may allow some disabled and/or elderly people to use food assistance for these purchases.
Since these guidelines are dependent on your location, it’s always good to check and make sure your purchase is eligible for EBT before completing your transaction.
It is also important to note that ineligible purchases will not be automatically blocked, so prohibited items will still be charged to your card when shopping. Still, the Department of Health and Human Services will investigate these purchases if they are not compliant with the program. The agency will then set up a hearing to determine if you broke the law. Whether a misuse of benefits was purposeful or not, you may still face severe penalties, including losing all your benefits, so be careful to only use your benefits on eligible purchases.
Here are a few listed penalties depending on the number of times a shopper has purchased banned items:
- The first offense can result in the loss of food assistance for three months
- The second offense can result in the loss of food assistance for one year
- Additional offenses can result in the loss of food assistance for two years per occurence
As you can see, the penalties are drastic, so shoppers are therefore warned to pay extra attention and advised to split groceries—those that are covered and those they plan to pay for separately—before they are rung up.
The Future of Multivitamins and SNAP
In an ideal world, everyone should have access to balanced meals that meet their nutritional needs. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many, especially those with comprised immune systems, so lots of Americans rely on dietary supplements. These supplements can be used to fill nutritional gaps and have proven to help many who particularly lack or need certain vitamins and minerals—examples of this are B12 for vegans and folic acid to prevent strokes.
As of 2021, multivitamin-minerals are not eligible with SNAP. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) defines multivitamin-minerals as a dietary supplement product category that includes vitamins and minerals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which the SNAP program is headed by, gives further clarification and describes vitamins and supplements as any product with Supplement Facts labels. Common examples include B6, Calcium, and Vitamin D2 or D3.
The good news is that if you are like the other 170 million Americans who use supplements, you should know there could be a time shortly when multivitamin-minerals are accepted in the food assistance program.
The CRN, several other organizations, and lawmakers have been pushing to include dietary supplements with particular efforts starting in 2019. Health experts advocate for this because they know the significant role vitamins play in the average American’s life.
If you use supplements, you may be able to buy them soon with your food assistance benefits.
Where Can I Use My SNAP Card?
Now that you know what food you are qualified to purchase with your SNAP benefits, the next thing you should know is where you may use it. Like the food list, you should be careful when using your card to ensure you follow the criteria and buy products only from accepted food providers to avoid serious penalties.
Luckily, the USDA is clear on which retail food stores are acceptable. Their site has a SNAP Retailer Locator that allows you to find the closest store to you.
The list of accepted retailers has also expanded since the start of the pandemic. When millions of Americans lost their jobs last year, the federal program saw the demand for food assistance and added grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and even online grocery delivery services to their list. The latter means that you may pay with your SNAP card when online grocery shopping (like Instacart and other grocery services). It’s an additional feature to help combat COVID-19.
Again, be sure the retailer, whether online or in-person, is an accepted option first.
Here is an updated list of SNAP-approved retailers:
- BJ’s Wholesale Club
- Dash’s Market
- Wright’s Market
- Super Foods
- Piggly Wiggly
- Hays Supermarket
- The Fresh Grocer
- Carlie C’s IGA
- Woods Supermarket
New retailers include:
- Food Lion
If you plan on using Instacart, it’s good to know that the grocery delivery service plans on continuing to expand its services and be available with other grocers soon. This effort is a way to help shoppers avoid large crowds and maintain distance, especially those with vulnerable immune systems. So if you do not have Instacart available in your local stores, it could very well become available soon.
How to Use Your SNAP Card at Farmer’s Markets
Like Instacart and newly added retailers, farmer’s makers are also a new, post-COVID addition to SNAP benefits. Their inclusion has been another step to fight the pandemic and help low-income families during these trying times.
So, how do you use your card to buy groceries at your local farmers’ market? Over 1,500 farmers markets in forty-four states use an app called TotilPay Go, which is a payment processing app specifically for EBT transactions. Ask local vendors if they have TotilPay Go. If they do, you know they are eligible vendors.
More SNAP-Related Resources
SNAP provides food to low-income individuals and families and has made recent changes to further help during the pandemic. It has strict guidelines, but the main rule is to purchase eligible food only. Buying prohibited items could result in losing your benefits.
Although many Americans rely on dietary supplements, currently an EBT card cannot be used to purchase any product with a Supplement Facts label. Lawmakers and organizations are continuing to push for the inclusion of these products, however, and change might be on the way soon.
Save Money on your Wireless Phone Service
If you qualify for SNAP, you also qualify for Lifeline service. Lifeline is a federal benefit program that makes it possible for low-income consumers to receive access to free or heavily discounted communication services including talk, text, and data. Click here to find out more and apply for this valuable benefit.