Can You Buy Prepared Food with EBT? What You Need To Know

Many people are unsure about what foods can be bought with EBT, especially prepared foods. Generally, hot meals from restaurants or delis are not eligible. The USDA has clear rules that usually exclude hot, prepared meals. However, there are exceptions, like prepared foods meant for home consumption. Some states also have programs that allow EBT recipients to buy prepared meals from approved retailers.

Understanding what can be purchased with EBT is crucial to avoid confusion or misuse of funds. While hot meals are typically not covered, certain programs and exceptions do exist. By staying informed and following USDA and state guidelines, EBT recipients can use their benefits effectively and appropriately.

Types of Prepared Food Allowed

When using EBT to buy prepared food, keep in mind that hot items intended for immediate consumption are generally not allowed. However, cold deli items like sandwiches and salads can be purchased. Some states also permit buying hot prepared foods meant to be reheated at home, such as rotisserie chickens and pre-made meals from grocery stores.

Not all states have the same rules, so check with your local SNAP office to know what’s allowed. Remember that buying prepared foods with EBT can be more expensive than cooking at home, so budget accordingly.

Using EBT for Hot Foods

Low-income Americans enrolled in SNAP can use their EBT cards to purchase hot food in some states. The rules vary by state, and not all states allow it.

Restaurant Meals Program

The Restaurant Meals Program permits eligible SNAP recipients to buy hot meals at participating restaurants in certain states like Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Washington. To qualify, recipients must be elderly, disabled, or homeless, live in a participating state, and lack other means of meal preparation.

Hot Foods Waiver During Disasters

During natural disasters, the USDA may issue a Hot Foods Waiver, allowing SNAP recipients to buy hot, prepared foods with EBT cards. This waiver is temporary and specific to affected areas, helping those who have lost access to cooking facilities. Recipients can then purchase hot foods from authorized retailers, including convenience stores and restaurants.

Retailers Accepting EBT for Prepared Food

SNAP benefits help low-income individuals and families buy food at authorized retailers, including prepared foods. However, not all retailers accept EBT for prepared food. Authorized retailers include supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers markets, and co-ops.

Eligible prepared foods must be intended for home consumption and not hot at the point of sale. Examples include deli meats, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods. Hot foods, like those from a hot bar or food truck, are not eligible.

Retailers must meet certain requirements to accept SNAP benefits for prepared foods. These include having a valid SNAP permit, offering a variety of staple foods, and keeping accurate records of SNAP transactions.

State-Specific EBT Guidelines

When it comes to purchasing prepared food with EBT, the guidelines can vary depending on the state. Some states allow EBT benefits to be used for hot prepared meals, while others do not. Here are a few examples:

  • California: EBT benefits can be used to purchase hot prepared meals from participating restaurants in certain counties. However, there are restrictions on the number of meals that can be purchased per day and per week.
  • Florida: EBT benefits cannot be used to purchase hot prepared meals, but they can be used to purchase cold prepared meals that are intended for home consumption.
  • New York: EBT benefits can be used to purchase hot prepared meals from participating restaurants, but only in certain areas of the state. The program is called the Restaurant Meals Program.

It is important to note that these guidelines can change at any time, so it is always best to check with your local EBT office for the most up-to-date information.

To learn more about the range of items you can purchase with an EBT card please refer to our comprehensive guide ‘What You Can Buy with EBT’. This guide offers valuable insights into the types of products eligible for EBT purchases.

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