If you are approved for the Illinois food stamps program, you will receive your benefits through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, which is called an IL link card in the state. In general, an EBT card works and looks just like a debit card, which simplifies the process for purchasing food items in authorized stores.
The funds distributed by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP benefits, may be used at approved grocery stores and farmers markets. However, you are not allowed to buy every item sold in approved stores, because each product must meet the particular SNAP guidelines. Learn more about using your benefits correctly below.
Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Illinois?
When you enroll in the SNAP program in IL, your caseworker may help you understand the ins and outs of the regulations. Moreover, it is wise to read through these rules in advance, so you know what to expect.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established definitions of different types of food which help differentiate approved items from prohibited items. It also differentiates staple foods and accessory foods. Staple foods include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Meat substitutes, such as tofu, vegetable burgers and seitan
- Dairy products
- Bread and grains, such as rice or oats
The USDA highly recommends that you use your SNAP food stamps primarily for staple foods. This will ensure that you and your household members are eating a balanced diet. Accessory foods include:
- Snack foods, such as chips, granola bars, pretzels and cookies
- Certain beverages, such as bottled water, soda or sparkling water
- Baking ingredients
- Cooking ingredients
- Condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, mayonnaise, relish, horseradish and soy sauce
Baking and cooking ingredients that count as accessory foods include flour, baking powder, vanilla extract, sugar, spices, oil, vinegar and other products. While these items are not considered staple foods, you are perfectly within your rights to buy them with your Illinois link card.
A common misconception of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is that you may not buy pre-packaged foods with your benefits. However, you may purchase pre-made bakery items and cold cuts from grocery stores. The difference is that these items are not supposed to be eaten in the store. To gain a better understanding of which types of items you may buy with your benefits, download our free guide.
Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Illinois
You are not allowed to use your IL food stamp benefits to buy all types of items in approved grocery stores and farmers’ markets, because these stores often sell more than just food. Your Illinois link card may not work in stores that are unauthorized by SNAP, and it may even reject certain purchases. For instance, the following items may not be purchased with a link card:
- Alcoholic beverages, such as wine, beer and liquor
- Tobacco, cigarettes and vape products
- Live animals
- Hot foods and prepared foods
- Pet foods
- Cleaning supplies
Several of these SNAP assistance rules may seem confusing and contradictory. Supplements such as medicine, vitamins and dietary powders, for instance, are edible and often considered food. However, they are not considered food for the purposes of SNAP, because they have supplement labels instead of nutrition labels. Generally, items that can be purchased with a link card must have a nutrition label.
In addition, hot foods and prepared foods are pre-packaged like bakery items and cold cuts, but may not be purchased with a link card. This is because these foods are considered restaurant foods, which are strictly prohibited under SNAP guidelines.
It should also be noted that you may use your Illinois SNAP food benefits to buy live animals in very specific circumstances. As an example, you may use your link card to buy shellfish such as lobster from a seafood counter, as long as it is removed from the water and meant to be prepared and consumed at home.
How are food stamps benefits amounts calculated in Illinois?
The food stamps program in IL calculates your monthly benefit amount based on the number of people in your household and your income level. Therefore, there is a different maximum gross monthly benefit for each household size. This amount is calculated during the SNAP application process.
For example, the largest amount of monetary assistance a household of one may receive is $192 per month. A household of two may receive as much as $353 each month. These numbers are updated every year and determined by the federal poverty level (FPL).
In any case, you may use a food stamps calculator to help you determine the amount for which you may qualify. This type of online calculator may ask you to submit the following information:
- The number of people in your household.
- How many household members are 17 years of age or younger, 60 years of age or older, pregnant or have a disability.
- Your gross monthly income, which is the combined income of every working member of your household.
- Your resources, such as cars, cash on hand, money in a traditional savings account and certain other countable financial resources.
- Forms of unearned income, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and child care payments.
The calculator will then use all of these factors to determine an estimate. Keep in mind that certain forms of income, such as child care payments, may not affect your benefit allotment.
When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Illinois?
Generally, you will receive your link card for Illinois food stamps within seven days. It will be sent to you by mail from your local Department of Human Services (DHS) office. Specifically, it is important to note that it will take seven days from the date that you received an approval notice. Make sure that you get in touch with your caseworker if 10 days have passed and you have still not received your link card.
Your Illinois link card may be sent by mail more quickly if you have been approved for expedited benefits. For more details on what to expect from the SNAP program, download our free guide.