5 Little-Known Perks of SNAP Benefits

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  • SNAP benefits enable you to buy more than just groceries.
  • What you can buy with your benefits depends in part on where you live.

If you're just using your benefits for groceries, you could be missing out.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps millions of low-income Americans put food on their tables every year. But many don't realize they can use their benefits to purchase more than just groceries. Here are five surprising things you can buy with SNAP benefits.

1. Restaurant meals

You generally can't buy restaurant meals with SNAP benefits unless you live in one of the states below:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Illinois (Cook and Franklin counties only)
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Rhode Island (Providence and Washington counties only)
  • Virginia

These states participate in what's called the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP), which allows seniors 60 and older and disabled or homeless adults to use SNAP benefits to purchase meals at restaurants.

In order to take advantage of this, you must get approval from the state and sign an agreement with the Food and Nutrition Service.

2. Hunting and fishing gear

Some Alaskan residents may use SNAP benefits to purchase hunting and fishing gear necessary to procure their own food. This benefit is only available to those living in remote areas because it's difficult for them to go to a store and purchase food.

3. Seeds and plants

Those interested in starting a garden can use SNAP benefits to purchase food-producing plants and seeds. If you choose to do this, you'll have some extra work upfront, but you could wind up with considerably more produce over time than you could get by purchasing it from a store. And that could help you keep more money in your bank account over the long term.

4. Gift baskets

You can purchase gift baskets with SNAP benefits as long as edible items make up at least half its cost. To be clear, if a basket has 10 items and five of them are edible, that doesn't automatically mean SNAP benefits will cover it. It all comes down to price and how much each item contributes to the overall cost of the basket. The value of the food items must be equal to or greater than the value of the non-food items in the basket.

5. Certain live animals

Live animals are another thing that's not normally covered by SNAP benefits, but live lobsters are an exception. Live fish are another exception if they're removed from the body of water they were caught in.

Bonus: Discounted Amazon Prime membership

No, SNAP benefits won't buy you an Amazon Prime membership. But Amazon offers a special deal to those receiving SNAP and other government benefits. Rather than paying the standard $14.99 per month, they can get Prime for just $6.99 per month.

You'll need to verify your eligibility for this special rate when you sign up and every 12 months afterward. But once you do that, you get access to all the membership's services, including free shipping on Amazon items, access to Amazon Prime's movies and TV shows, and unlimited photo storage.

The things above may not all appeal or apply to you, but keep them in mind. Knowing the rules of this program is key to getting the most out of it, and even if something doesn't seem relevant to you right now doesn't mean it won't be in the future.

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