4 Things You Shouldn't Be Able To Buy With Food Stamps (And One You Should)

As long as the government is determined to get all Big Brother on making sure food stamp recipients use their subsidies wisely, we have some suggestions for products that shouldn't be covered.

The number of Americans receiving food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has ballooned in the past five years—from 26 million people in 2007 to more than 44 million people today, according to the latest numbers. That means the government has a hold over what one in seven U.S. citizens are and aren't allowed to purchase for consumption—and could feasibly use that power to force them to eat healthier.

Currently, New York City is in a full-fledged food stamp battle with the soft-drink industry, as the city attempts to make it illegal to use government money to buy delicious, fattening soda. As long as local governments are determined to get all Big Brother on making sure food stamp recipients use their subsidies wisely, we have some suggestions for products that shouldn't be covered by the SNAP program. Note: It's highly unlikely that any of these things will come to pass, because any exemption from current food stamp guidelines would have to come with federal approval (and the lobby of companies that make unhealthy food is very powerful).

Bottled Water

Tap water is generally plentiful and clean. We do not live in a country where the tap water is incredibly unsafe for consumption; let's encourage people to take advantage of all the effort that goes into making that happen. There is one major caveat to this: Some people really do have unsafe tap water (people who live near fracking sites, for example). So a ban like this would have to at least have to be county-specific. But if you live in cities like New York City and San Francisco, you should revel in your clean tap water, and save your food stamps for other things.


Mayor Bloomberg may be on to something with his proposed soft-drink ban for New York. If passed, the ban would prevent people from using food stamps to buy carbonated and non-carbonated beverages that
are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar and have more than 10 calories per eight-ounce serving. Is this over the top? Quite likely. But it's an interesting thought experiment: What would happen to obesity and diabetes rates if soda was taken off the food-stamp approval list?


Like a soda ban, this is probably over the top. But should government subsidies really be paying for your Snickers habit? As with the soda ban, a ban on candy might just lead manufacturers to develop similar products (like a chocolate-covered, peanut-filled granola bar) at the same price, for the same market. Ideally, though, they'd instead start pushing healthy products as junk food—like some people are doing for baby carrots.


Food stamps are intended to "allow households to purchase a set of
low-cost foods that meet current Federal nutrition
recommendations," according to the USDA. One fancy lobster would suck up a good portion of a monthly food stamp allowance—and if you can afford to do that, you should just use cash. Not that poor people shouldn't get to enjoy lobster. They just shouldn't use our tax dollars.

Instead, Use Stamps At The Farmer's Market

The generic complaint against farmers' markets is that the food is too expensive to serve everyone who needs food. But, lo and behold, SNAP recipients are legally allowed use their food stamps to purchase food at farmer's markets. The practice is only now gaining popularity because paper food-stamp coupons have been replaced by special debit cards, and many farmer's markets only accept cash. This is the kind of thing we would like to see more of: widespread access to healthy, fresh foods that are reasonably priced (on a good day). It certainly beats bottled water.

[Photo by NCReedplayer]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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    Chris Geisler -If you were truly a "Health Care Professional", you would know that not ALL people who are approved for disability automatically qualify for Medicare. That simply is not true! As someone who not only has an autistic child who receives disability, but as someone who receives disability myself...I find these remarks both rude and condescending. I have been sick for nearly 26 years. I toughed it out for 22 years before I ever chose to go on daily medications, had any surgeries, quit working, etc. If that is what you consider "lazy", knock yourself out...but your opinion doesn't mean jack to me at the end of the day. I honestly don't give a rats @$$ what anyone else THINKS I should and shouldn't be "allowed" to buy with my food card for my child and myself. Let's make this clear...I began working at the age of 15. I worked two jobs at times. I worked my butt off even when I had letters from doctors stating that my child needed full time and constant care. I didn't WANT to live off the system. I wanted to contribute to society. I did so until the point I was having spine surgeries and brain surgeries. So excuse me if I sound ungrateful but SHUT THE HELL UP AND STOP WHINING. I have worked and paid my way. I paid into the system for years. So did my parents. I'm the divorced mother of ONE child. I am not one of those that made it my job to keep pumping out more kids just to get more money. I don't even get a welfare check...nor have I ever! So if I want to get a 12 pack of Coke Zero...I'm going to. If my child wants a Reese Cups...he's going to get it. I have never in my life bought a Lobster. I think I have bought one steak in the last 20 years. How dare ANYONE tell me what I can and can not eat. What a bunch of nazi's!! I didn't ASK to be disabled. My child didn't ASK to be disabled...SO GET OFF MY CASE!! I worked for many years. I paid my taxes just like you. So keep your nose out of my business and out of my pantry! While you're at it...further your education and learn the difference between "your" and "you're". There is nothing worse than someone upon a high horse that wasn't smart enough to get up their on their own. 

  • Coltongreeley

    I really don't think you should write an article on how people should use their SNAP benefits until you've actually BEEN on SNAP. I agree with a previous commenter, you do come off as ignorant and elitist. Taking a closer look at statistics, the vast majority of Americans on SNAP are single mothers. These are women who work at least one job to keep a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs. Do you honestly think they're using their EBT card to get lobster? And if they budget accordingly, why should you be able to tell them no? Or would you rather they just ate out of cans to make sure your "tax dollars" didn't serve some "poor person" (as you eloquently put it) lobster? Also in regard to your carbonated beverage/obesity comment, people on SNAP is about 13% of Americans. 13% of Americans don't get soda and you think the obesity problem will go down? You can get a 3 liter jug of cola for a dollar which will last a family of 3 for over a week. 1/2 gallon of fruit juice costs about 2.99. You do the math. Or do poor people not deserve flavored beverages?

  • Annnoyed with you

    I find it hard to believe that people on SNAP are buying lobster often enough to merit your comments on high-end food purchases.  

    Are you really aware of the issues surrounding food access and use of food stamps?

    You don't seem to know what it is you're talking about. You come off as elitist and ignorant.

    How about an article talking about food stamp usage at farmers markets? Aside from the question of whether program recipients have access to places to prepare fresh foods, how about looking into infrastructure needs that currently reduce use of SNAP at farmers markets? Or how successful local match programs are, that double SNAP dollars at farmers market?

  • Chris Geisler

    Are you serious....?  As a healthcare professional I am so tired of seeing so many able-bodied people file for diability.  Or people that are simply lazy and/or overweight that feel it enables them to sit at home, sleep in, play all the facebook games, hang on the phone all day.  These people have better health insurance than I do!  Why... because once your on disability you are eligible for Medicare at any age.  Instead I come across people who really need to be on disability but refuse it and push on.  It sickens me further to see the news reports since the 99 weeks of extended unemployment has ended that there was been such a steep rise in disability claims for things like "crazy" which is the most difficult to prove against.... GET A JOB!