Food Stamps, Snap, Etc.

Updated on February 17, 2015
J.G. asks from Chicago, IL
13 answers

I'm trying to find out how food stamps work. What kids of foods can you buy, and is there a limit? For instance, Can you buy as much produce as you want? How about boxed pancake mix?

We got into a discussion last night and someone said they limit produce, but not baby food in jars. Do you get a separate card/amount just for baby? I was told they limit how many bananas you can buy.

I thought you got a monthly amount of money per person-more than I spend, which shocks me!- and as long as you buy real food items, you're good to go. This seems to be what the federal eligible food page says, it says nothing about limits.

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So What Happened?

I didn't want to start up a debate about poverty, welfare, etc. I proudly voted for illinois to raise it's minimunmm wage to $14. Sadly, that still isn't enough. I'm against corporate welfare and tax shelters for the wealthy. They rape and pillage far worse than the very small percent using public funds in unethical manners.

With that said, I notice a big difference in how different ethnic groups shop. Regular white/black Americans with SNAP tend to buy lots of processed junk-where I shop, 85% of the customers are on SNAP. Otoh, are the Indians, middle eastern folks who come in and buy buckets of produce and beans and lentils. They could feed a small army for a month on the $100 they spend. It's fun to watch. The place I shop does big, bulk discount produce for $1. You can fill up a cart for next to nothing. When strawberries are .89 for a carton, I will see people literally filling a cart with strawberries. The workers can't keep the shelves stocked, as quickly as they put them out, they are being taken. I love seeing people be smart with money. I myself bulk, frugal shop, so I love to watch how it is really done.

I do think education plays a large role in poverty. It's a cycle, and without education, it's a very hard cyle to break. I use to volunteer at a center and work with low-income folks. A lot of it was culture. But it's a culture produced and supported by capital, and the way capitalism works. I believe everyone should live a respectful life in the wealthiest country on earth. It's sad that 1 in 5 kids is hungry. It shouldn't be that way.

FYI, the snap amount for a family of 5 is roughly 771. I spend a little less than that, around 650, and I buy tons of organic stuff. In fact, I spend $14 a week just on milk, and then another $7 on eggs. I also buy organic chicken, but when I do, I buy a chicken and we turn the carcass into stock, etc. Here's where I got the information:

I'm actually stunned that they expect SANP households to spend 30% food. That's ridiculous.

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answers from Wausau on

This is the link for eligible SNAP food items:

There is no limit as to how many of a particular qualified item you may buy. You're limited only by the dollar amount you get per month. You can buy as much produce as you want, or as much pancake mix as you want, until you run out of funds.

I think the person you were talking with might be confusing SNAP with WIC. WIC is allows only specific types of produce (yes sweet potatos, no russet potatos) and does have limits on how many of certain things you can get.

I can't find an IL list that lists what kind of foods are allowed with WIC, but here is the one for WI.

And this is the page saying how much of each thing you can get at each WIC level:

7 moms found this helpful

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answers from Austin on

I have to laugh.. I applied for a job at Crate and Barrel. They pay $9.00 per hour. Their managers not much more. Tell me you could support your family on that 40 hours a week (if you are lucky, usually they only allow 35 to 38 hours per week).

I have friends that work for the State of Texas that earns , $26,000 per year. With withholding, her health insurance, she cannot afford rent, car, car insurance, fuel, , (childcare for 1 child), groceries, electric, Much less anything else. No wonder we have so many people that need help.

Take into consideration, we have terrible public transportation in Austin.We depend on our cars. The rents are high, our electric is very high remember in the summers it is always in the high 90''s, childcare is high..

It is tough out there. I am very sensitive to the people that really are trying their best. God forbid something goes wrong for them. an accident, illness, loss of their job. It is hard to judge those in need.

18 moms found this helpful


answers from Reading on

Wow! I had no idea we have so many social scientists in our group!

Here's the thing, "observations" do not mean you truly understand what's happening. "Observations" are not the same as actual research. "Observations" are filtered through your own preexisting belief system, often informed by prejudices and flawed theories.

$771 for a family of five seems totally reasonable to me. Great that you can do it on less. I've tried couponing and bulk shopping and it took a ridiculous amount of time to save a pittance on things I wouldn't normally buy. The single moms I know are working so hard at two jobs and raising their kids that they definitely do not have time for that.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Food stamps are given based on the amount of money that is coming into the house from work, unemployment, etc.
I am going to give you MY numbers, since we receive food stamps, and put myself out there. Hope no one gets pissy....
We just did our taxes and made about $33,000 for the year. Which is NOT minimum wage, but about $18 an hour. For a family of 5.
My husband works like a dog, but doesn't make a lot of money. We receive $237 a month for food stamps. Which is $47 a month per person, or $1.56 a day. Which is not enough every month. And it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be food assistance. It gets us through the first 2 1/2 weeks.
I can buy any food. I can not buy alcohol (not that I would, I don't drink). They do not limit anything. I find that I buy a lot of meat, since it's the most expensive, and fresh fruits/veggies. Anything else that I want I am usually buying with cash. BUT, if you buy $237 of bananas then the state would probably contact me to find out what's going on.
ADDED - I don't know where you got that number $771.....but that is a TON of money! I can't imagine spending that much on food.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

All states run it a little differently and have different requirements.

Here in Florida you first need to pass a drug test. Which I am fine with since I need to pass a drug test to get a job and pay the taxes that pay for welfare.

As far as I know they can purchase as much produce as they want and they can purchase all kinds of junk food and soda. No cigarettes, beer, wine or liquor. When my mother got food stamps when I was a kid (in the 70's) they had strict limits about what you could purchase and how long you could receive them. No processed foods, milk eggs, flour stuff like that. Once she got a better job we didn't get them anymore since she didn't need them.

They also need to be at poverty level to collect and yes there are some that really need this and some that work the system because they don't want to work.

Response to a poster below:

The minimum wage has nothing to do with welfare. A minimum wage is for jobs that are meant for teens and part timers not people looking for a career at cashiering. There are so many labor jobs available but no one seems to want to actually work to earn a living.

Companies will not have as many employees or go automated before they will pay 15 to 20 dollars an hour for a minimum skilled job.

Americans need to know that the welfare system started when men were going off to war (WWII) and the women with small children needed help to get by. It was only meant to help those who couldn't work (small children at home). But somewhere in the past it became a crutch and now we have generations of young women (and teens) that consider this their only means of being paid. It is what they are taught to do because it has gone on for so long.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I'm not jumping into a political debate but I just correcting incorrect tax information that was posted.

While almost everyone pays social Security and Medicare (total of 7.65%) many american's pay Zero in federal income taxes. The assumption that someone with a low enough income to qualify for government aide is paying in 20% to the IRS is incorrect.

Let's take a single parent with two kids under 17 years of age making $15 an hour. The annual income is $31,200 (based on 2,080 hours). To calculate taxable income you subtract the Standard deduction for head of household and 3 personal exemptions totals $20,800. That means taxable income is $10,400 which would be taxed at 10% ($1,040). Except this parent qualifies for Earned Income Credit which is a refundable credit. Thus this household would EIC of $2,639 and a refund of $1,599.

This means this family paid $0 in federal income taxes and received just shy of $1600 from the IRS (taxpayers).

I am not saying this is a lot of money to raise two kids on. I'm only trying to correct the myth that a family of this economic condition would pay in 20% to the IRS.

I would hope a parent in this situation gets a big break a childcare or something because childcare could eat up almost half of these wages.

I'm a fiscal conservative however I'm glad we have programs such as EIC and childcare supplements to encourage and help the working families in this economic situation.

I'm thankful I've never found myself and this situation as an adult. Due to my childhood, I experienced being on both the solidly middle to upper middle class and the working poor. So I'm really not trying to spread any hate or prejudice.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I don't know exactly how it works, but I have been shocked about how much they get. I am going to sign off before I get on my bandwagon about us paying for it. All fair when it's for purposely needy people, not so fair when others have worked their way around the system.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I received snap benefits last year when I was unemployed. I never got cash or housing since they kept telling me that one paper was too old or whatever. Anyway, I buy tons of produce and with a family of 7 it goes quickly. For the record, when there was extra, I did not sell it to someone else. I also do not know anyone that has since they have the card now rather than the actual paper food stamps. I did spurge on protein bars for my daughter who is on the track team and I bought cans of ravioli etc. And yes I was able to buy them a birthday cake from the grocery and an occasional bag of chips. I honestly see nothing wrong with getting a cheap cake to celebrate a child's birthday. But there should be limits on soda etc. And you are right in the difference in ethnic groups but there is also a neighborhood and where you can shop difference.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boise on

We received benefits for a few months when we first moved here since the place where my husband had a job got bought out and his job was "no longer relevant". Here, one can only purchase non-tax food items and nothing from the hot deli cases in stores. There's no limits on produce or any other food items. You cannot purchase things like soaps, tissue, wines/beer, diapers, etc... So, a person can go in and spend their entire allotted amount on dried beans or grapes or whatever as long as it's a food item and not taxed.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

It really depends on the state. In nebraska we can buy anything food like, including baby food, there is no limit on anything that we can buy. Even deli foods and cold foods from Hyvee. Like sandwiches or salads. Of course as I said though it depends from state to state. Each has its own way of dealing with it.

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answers from Boston on

The amount of food stamps a person qualifies for is determined by a number of factors. How many people in your household, how much income your household has, how many qualifying expenses you have, for example rent or mortgages and utilities are qualified expenses, but cable and credit card debt are not. They calculate all of the factors and determine an amount based on the results. As far as what you can purchase, as long as it's food you can use food stamps. The only restrictions are hot foods and alcohol. Another poster said you cannot buy a deli sandwich, that is only true if it is hot, but not if it is cold. At least in the state that I live in. Maybe that's different in other states. You are also not limited to amounts, so yes you can buy as much produce as you have money for.

The SNAP program is designed to assist in being able to provide food for families, not to give them free money. As far as I know, most states have a work or searching for work requirement to continue the program and if you do not work, or attempt to find work you can be removed from it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Rapids on

I am not sure about the food assistance program. One poster was looking for a WIC food list for IL. I agree with the other posters-the food program that you were describing sounds more like WIC. WIC food list for IL:
Also, WIC is only for children up to the age of 5. It is strictly supplemental.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I've never heard of any limits re quantity or what you buy except that they won't cover already prepared foods (like from fast food or restaurants). With WIC you go vouchers for certain foods and specific quantities of those foods. Perhaps someone was thinking of WIC when they said that.

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