Jen McMillin


SNAP Benefits - FAQ's

An ongoing struggle between me and my more conservative friends is the issue of SNAP or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program.  Some people remember back in the Clinton Administration the hubbub about "welfare queens" and still project this image on today's SNAP users.  But that couldn't be further from the truth - I read a great article today from Lifehacker that broke the program down, and I encourage you to read it as a primer.

Essentially, SNAP is a program that benefits low-income families with funds each month to purchase "grocery" items.  There are a few eligibility requirements, but a good starting point is a household that is at 130% of the poverty level or below.

Items that CAN be purchased with SNAP Benefits

  • Foods for the household to eat, such as:

  • breads and cereals;

  • fruits and vegetables;

  • meats, fish and poultry; and

  • dairy products.

  • Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.

In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.

Items that CANNOT be purchased with SNAP Benefits

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco

  • Any nonfood items, such as:

  • pet foods

  • soaps, paper products

  • household supplies

  • Vitamins and medicines

  • Food that will be eaten in the store

  • Hot foods


There are many complaints of SNAP and its users.  Let's take a look and debunk a few:

  • SNAP households spend most of their benefits on junk food.

    • Not true.  Actually, according to a study from the USDA, both SNAP participants and non-SNAP households purchased very similar products.  "About 40 cents of every food purchase dollar was spent on basic items like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread. Another 20 cents was spent on sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar. The remaining 40 cents was spent on a variety of items such as cereal, prepared foods, other dairy products, rice, beans, and other cooking ingredients."

  • SNAP participants just "mooch" off of the system; they need to just get a job.

  • People take advantage of SNAP benefits, and sell their cards for cash.

    • Not true.  According to the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, the U.S. government has issued SNAP to ineligible households at a rate of 2.96%, and has UNDERissued benefits at a rate of 0.69%.  Not bad for a huge program that impacts over 44 million Americans.

In the end, like any program, there will be arguments for and against SNAP.  But with long-term benefits for children and families that utilize it, I personally think the program does a lot of good.

Thanks for reading, and stay curious!

Jen McMillin