Can You Buy Cold Sandwiches With SNAP, EBT, or Food Stamps?
This information is current as of July 27, 2022.
EBT cards and food stamps are notoriously limited in some ways and curiously unlimited in others. For instance, how does it make sense that Red Bull is an eligible item while a hot Italian sub is not? It’s doubtful that anything in a Red Bull is remotely “essential.”
Mostly, you can buy cold sandwiches and subs with an EBT card, depending on where you are shopping. Most stores allow it and will label the items accordingly. When it comes to convenience stores, however, the opposite is far more common.
What’s the difference between a cold Philly cheese steak and a hot Philly cheese steak? According to the US Department of Agriculture, it’s not the temperature but the essentialness of the item. For some reason, the warmer a sandwich gets, the less essential it becomes.
Can You Buy Cold Sandwiches With SNAP, EBT, or Food Stamps?
It’s a question worth asking multiple times. If the above illustration struck you as absurd, we must go back to the Red Bull comparison—or any soft drink. It’s a well-known and long-established fact that soft drinks and high fructose corn syrup are terrible for you.
At the same time, a hot sandwich from the deli is considered to be prepared and therefore non-essential. The USDA can talk all day about the fact that a hot sandwich isn’t viable in the long term. Consequently, it should not be included in the list of EBT-eligible items.
Regardless of how good something is for you, its shelf date determines its eligibility because a Red Bull can last long if you don’t crack the seal. It could be radioactive plutonium, but so long as it will last a few weeks in the fridge, you’re good.
When it comes to cold prepared sandwiches, it’s usually up to the store in question. For example, Publix often sells its cold deli sandwiches and subs to those wishing to pay with EBT or food stamps. A cold deli sub has a longer shelf life than a hot deli sub.
Who knows? But the fact is, the cold sandwich that is eligible for purchase with EBT or food stamps was a hot sandwich that didn’t get sold the day before. Take a moment to digest that absurdity. The point is that you can purchase cold deli sandwiches in most locations, but you “should” be able to buy hot deli sandwiches too.
Are There Stores That Won’t Sell Cold Deli Sandwiches to SNAP Recipients?
There sure are. However, that’s mostly going to be convenient stores. Not only that, but it’s also up to the convenience store whether it’s done or not. It’s not like the convenience store suffers under a different set of USDA rules than the Publix down the street.
It’s just that most convenience stores don’t do it. Most places label their cold deli or other eligible items with “WIC” stickers. While it’s true that WIC is a nutritional program for kids, it also generally codes for you. You can get this with food stamps or EBT cards too.
Fortunately, this trend usually only extends to convenience stores and no more than that. Most grocery stores will allow you to buy cold deli sandwiches, but not the ones sitting in the display window up at the bar.
The cold deli sandwiches that you can purchase are usually packaged. They are the kinds that are sealed in plastic or the types that are wrapped in wax paper. The latter variety is the ones we referred to earlier—the ones that were hot foods just the day before.
The USDA defines these things using the words—unprepared, prepared, essential, and non-essential. You would be floored by the amount of stretching the USDA can do with the definitions of these terms.
Which Cold Foods Are Ineligible?
Unless it’s a cold, wrapped deli sandwich, it’s probably not eligible for food stamps. Ineligible foods include cold rotisseries, cold macaroni salads, cold potato salads, and cold mac and cheese variations.
We say “variations” because there are about a thousand ways to make macaroni and cheese, some of which are cold. Packaged and refrigerated foods are EBT eligible such as:
- Cold packaged meats
- Sliced deli meats
- Cold packaged cheeses
There are instances where grocery retailers will make a hot food item, or an otherwise ineligible cold food item, into an “unprepared” food category. They then ring it up for you that way. This is usually done with the absolute best intentions and nothing more.
However, suppose you get caught doing it, or the store gets caught doing it. In that case, the USDA considers it to be welfare fraud. You could be stricken from the SNAP-eligible group and have to wait one year before you qualify again.
Go back to your Red Bull and clog your arteries, but stay away from those fresh, hot, healthy sandwiches. You’re probably getting the idea by now.
Use Your Cash Benefits
If you have cash benefits, you can always slide your EBT card into your nearest and most affordable ATM, take the cash, and spend it on all the hot deli food you could ever hope for. If you want, of course.
That’s the only way to get around the weird eligibility requirements issued by the USDA without committing welfare fraud. It’s perfectly legal and acceptable to use your cash benefits when food stamps or your EBT card simply won’t work.
Cash benefits are always the way to go. Rather than risk the wrath of the USDA for buying a hot deli item instead of the cold deli item that used to be a hot deli item one shelf away.
Honestly, though, Publix does Fresh Sushi Wednesdays, and if you like sushi, you need to get to the bank and draw out that money. It’s the best way to get around the rule without breaking any laws, and Publix sushi is divine.
All Things Considered
So, depending on what grocery store you happen to be standing in at the time, you can probably purchase some cold deli foods with your EBT card or food stamps. If it’s a convenience store, probably not. But that’s not one that you can lay at the feet of the USDA, as most convenience stores choose that policy.
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