Can You Buy Alcohol With Food Stamps?


Food stamps help millions of Americans across the country with low income stretch their food budget and make ends meet. This vital program helps many people who would struggle otherwise. 

While food stamps allow you to access various food items, many people wonder: can you buy alcohol with food stamps?

This article will cover exactly what food stamps are, what you can buy with them, and whether you can include alcohol on that grocery list. 

What Are Food Stamps?

Food stamps are a now colloquial term that refers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. The program was referred to as the Food Stamps Program until 2008 when it was renamed to emphasize and promote its nutritional aspects. 

This program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service and administered by each state. The goal of the program is to provide monthly benefits to low-income households.

As a SNAP participant, you must shop at a SNAP-authorized food retailer to redeem your benefits. If you don’t know where that would be, the USDA has resources to help you find your nearest SNAP-authorized food retailer. There are about 248,000 SNAP retailers nationwide, ranging from big-box superstores and supermarkets to specialty stores, farmer’s markets, and convenience stores.

Here are some things you can buy through SNAP benefits:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Bread and cereals
  • Dairy products
  • Meats, poultry, and fish
  • Snack foods and beverages

Some chain restaurants in certain areas are also authorized to accept SNAP from specific groups, such as seniors and disabled people. 

The SNAP program offers additional assistance for seniors, women, and children, such as free meals for children for school, daycare, or after-school care.

How do you access SNAP benefits and use them to pay for food? Typically through an EBT card.

What Is an EBT Card?

SNAP participants pay for food using an Electronics Benefits Transfer, also known as EBT. Participants get an EBT account and card to shop at SNAP-authorized retail stores. 

EBT cards work similarly to debit cards. Every time you pay using your EBT card, it debits your account to reimburse the store for the purchase. 

EBT cards are used across all 50 states and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, and simplify the process of using SNAP benefits. During the pandemic, the Pandemic EBT was introduced to families who missed meals due to school and childcare closures.

Can you buy alcohol with EBT benefits? Let’s find out. 

Gloved hands holding box of fresh grocery items

Can You Buy Alcohol With Food Stamps?

You cannot buy alcohol with SNAP benefits and, therefore, cannot buy alcohol using your EBT card. This includes wine, beer, or liquor. 

To enforce this rule, restrictions have been established to prevent using EBT cards in liquor stores, gaming and gambling venues, and adult entertainment establishments. The transaction will most likely be denied if you try to purchase alcohol with your EBT card. 

Alcohol is one of the few food items you cannot use your food stamps for, but it isn’t the only one. There are many restrictions on what participants can buy with their SNAP benefits. 

Restrictions on SNAP Benefits

There are a variety of other non-food items you can’t buy with your SNAP benefits. These items include:

  • Cigarettes and tobacco
  • Paper products
  • Hygiene items such as soaps, deodorant, menstrual care
  • Household supplies
  • Pet food
  • Vitamins and medicine
  • Live animals – excluding shellfish, fish removed from the water, and animals slaughtered before pick-up from the store

SNAP generally is restricted to food items – items intended to be eaten. Therefore, decorative food items, such as a gourd for Thanksgiving, are not eligible to be purchased with SNAP benefits.

What’s more, you can’t purchase hot prepared food at grocery stores or other consumable items in the store. 

Some restrictions on food stamp benefits have been debated, such as menstrual care and medicine. However, for now, other programs and resources for those items can help people access them as needed.

Other Resources

SNAP isn’t the only resource for those seeking food assistance. Other resources around the country help people access food every day. 

For example, call the number 211 – provided by United Way – for immediate assistance in an emergency hunger situation. They also help with disaster assistance and other essential needs. 

Local community centers and religious places such as churches often offer food assistance for people who need it. 

Here are a few examples of other food assistance programs:

  • The National Free Lunch School Program
  • Local food banks and food pantries
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
Sign in store window reading "We Accept SNAP"

Conclusion: Restrictions on Food Stamps

Can you buy alcohol with food stamps? No, you can’t. In fact, you’d have a lot of trouble finding programs that allow you to purchase alcohol, as it isn’t an essential need. You’ll have to head to your local liquor store with your own money for that. 

However, there are a variety of programs that supply food assistance to low-income households. If you aren’t low-income and are in a position to help, consider donating to these organizations to ensure no one gets left behind. 

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