Learn How To Apply For Food Stamps With Our Guide

Learn How To Apply For Food Stamps With Our Guide

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The Alabama food stamps program, which is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides monetary assistance to low-income families living in the state. Qualified applicants used to receive food stamps or vouchers that could be exchanged for food. Nowadays, beneficiaries receive electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards that work just like debit cards. Every month, a family’s benefit amount is loaded onto the card.

The goal of SNAP benefits in Alabama is to give low-income families access to nutritious foods, which they would otherwise be unable to buy. As such, EBT cards may be used to buy various food items at approved grocery stores, farmers markets and similar food sellers. However, beneficiaries may not purchase certain items with their EBT cards, making it important for them to understand the guidelines and restrictions associated with these monetary benefits. Read more about qualifying purchases and non-qualifying purchases below.

Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Alabama?

If you meet the requirements for benefits, the SNAP program in AL will allow you to buy a variety of foods that will supplement your diet and keep your family healthy. You may use EBT cards, which were formerly SNAP food stamps, to purchase any of the following items for your family:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Breads, grains and cereals
  • Certain snack foods
  • Beverages, excluding alcohol
  • Nuts and seeds

You may think that you may only purchase unprepared foods that require cooking, such as raw vegetables or boxed pasta. However, you are allowed to buy most packaged foods as well, such as chips, doughnuts, ice cream and certain other frozen foods.

While the SNAP program recommends that you do not use your benefits for only snack and dessert foods, these items are considered accessory foods. Thus, you are allowed to make room for them in a balanced diet.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also characterizes certain foods as staple foods, which should make up the majority of a person’s diet according to nutritionists. Effectively, the program intends for these foods to be the main items purchased with EBT cards.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), staple foods are basic items that will provide you with a balanced diet. There are four groups of staple foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Breads, grains and cereals

In addition, your AL food stamp benefits may be used to purchase certain foods that complement your meals. Condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, hot sauce, mustard or vinegar may all be purchased using these monthly benefits. You may also purchase cooking or baking ingredients, such as:

  • Powdered, dried or extracted spices
  • Baking soda and baking powder
  • Vanilla extract, sugar, honey, maple syrup, aspartame and other sweeteners
  • Vegetable oils, shortening, lard

Note that the product you purchase must have a Nutrition Facts label, and the label must list at least one ingredient that has been approved by the SNAP program.

Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Alabama

If you receive SNAP assistance, there are certain items that you may not purchase with an EBT card. In general, your card will reject the purchase of prohibited items. For example, you may not use your benefits to buy items from the following categories:

  • Alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine or liquor
  • Tobacco products and cigarettes
  • Vitamins, medicines and supplements
  • Live animals
  • Prepared hot foods that may be eaten immediately
  • Nonfood items sold in grocery stores, such as pet foods, cleaning supplies, toiletries, cosmetics and hygiene products

When purchasing items with your SNAP food benefits, it is important to check whether the item has a nutrition label or a supplement label. That is because certain items that may seem eligible actually have a supplement label. For instance, gummy vitamins may not be acceptable, but regular gummy fruit snacks may be eligible.

There are also exceptions to the rules about live animals. As an example, you may purchase shellfish from an approved retailer if it has been taken out of the water. You may also buy animals that will be slaughtered by the time you pick them up from a store.

Furthermore, the food stamps program in AL has complex rules regarding prepared foods. For instance, you may use an EBT card to purchase bakery items, such as brownies and packaged cakes, which are technically prepared foods. Under the SNAP definition, however, bakery items are considered accessory foods.

You may not purchase meals that are deemed “ready to go,” such as packaged meals that include a protein and two sides. Generally, you must also avoid using your benefits for foods that are offered behind a grocery store counter where an employee has to serve you.

Be mindful that you cannot use SNAP benefits to pay for food obtained at restaurants. As a general rule, a business is considered a restaurant if more than 50 percent of its gross sales are made off of heated and/or prepared foods. For more explanation of which foods and sellers are allowed and which are prohibited, download our free guide.

How are food stamps benefits amounts calculated in Alabama?

You may consider using a food stamp calculator to obtain an estimate of your monthly SNAP benefits. A calculator is typically offered by a third-party source and may ask questions about:

  • Your household’s total gross income, yearly or monthly. This includes income from self-employment and unearned income such as investments or savings.
  • The number of people in your family and whether anyone in your family is 60 years of age or older.
  • Whether anyone in your family is eligible for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Note that your eligibility for other government assistance programs will not affect your SNAP eligibility, but it may alter the amount you receive in SNAP benefits.
  • Your monthly rent or mortgage and utilities.
  • How much you pay in medical expenses each month, particularly if you are 60 years of age or older or have a disability.

Keep in mind that a food stamp calculator is not the same as a SNAP calculator, which may predict your eligibility for the program but not your monthly benefit allotment. Also, keep in mind that a calculator is not going to provide an official determination of your eligibility or the amount of benefits. Your food assistance office will use this information during the application process to determine how much money you will have left for food costs each month, as well as how much you will need in benefits.

When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Alabama?

According to the Department of Human Resources (DHR), you will receive SNAP benefits in Alabama based on the EBT issuance schedule. Generally, the last two digits of your case number will determine the day of the month that your EBT is refilled. For instance, if the last two digits on your case number are 04, you will receive benefits on the 4th of each month.

You may receive food stamps more promptly if you are approved for expedited services. This may occur if your gross income does not reach $150 per month and you meet other requirements. To learn more about SNAP benefits, download our free guide.

Last Updated: February 22, 2023