The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps in Massachusetts, is a government assistance program that is designed to help low-income families afford groceries on a monthly basis. Even though the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) administers the program on the state level, it must comply with the regulations and guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This includes guidelines on eligibility and how SNAP benefits may be used.
Once you are approved for food stamp benefits, you will receive an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card for you to make purchases at grocery and convenience stores. These cards are reloaded on a monthly basis with your determined SNAP allotment. In any case, it is important to note that you may only purchase certain items using your SNAP program benefits. Read on to learn more about SNAP benefits in Massachusetts.
Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Massachusetts?
Food stamps in Massachusetts are designed to help families access healthy meals on a monthly basis. Therefore, you are able to purchase various food items using your SNAP benefits. On the other hand, it is important to note that foods you are allowed to purchase are typically separated into two categories: staple and accessory food items. By definition, staple items make up the majority of a healthy diet, including:
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Bread and cereal
- Fruits and vegetables
You may purchase these items fresh or in a frozen or packaged form. Because these items make up the majority of a healthy diet, there are little restrictions on the purchase of these items.
In addition, you may purchase accessory food items using your food stamp benefits. Accessory foods include items that are not necessarily healthy, such as desserts or snacks. However, accessory foods can also include items that supplement or complement meals. Examples include flour, oils, seasonings and more. Furthermore, accessory food items may include beverages that are not water, as long as they are not alcoholic, such as soda, juices or sports drinks.
One final category of items that are eligible for purchase using your SNAP benefits includes seeds and plants that will be used to provide food for the family.
Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Massachusetts
It is important to note that there are certain products that are off-limits for Massachusetts food stamps. The largest category of noneligible items is nonfood items. Although this may seem obvious, many nonfood items are sold alongside food in grocery stores. They may also be considered necessary weekly purchases for many individuals. Examples of ineligible items that you may not purchase with food stamps include:
- Pet food
- Hygiene products, such as soap
- Paper towels
- Cosmetic products
There are also certain food items that you may not purchase under the SNAP program. These items include:
- Hot or prepared food items
- Medicines, vitamins or supplements
- Live animals
- Alcoholic or tobacco products
You may not use your SNAP benefits to buy food for immediate consumption. This includes food at restaurants, as well as certain foods that you may purchase at grocery or convenience stores.
For example, some groceries sell rotisserie chickens that are hot and ready for consumption at the point of purchase. These chickens are not eligible for purchase under the program. To help identify what food items may not be eligible for purchase with food stamps, look for labels like “hot-and-ready” or “grab-and-go.”
Another important guideline to remember is that you may not purchase supplements using SNAP benefits. However, items that are considered supplements can often be confused with items that are considered foods. For example, many teas are eligible for purchase with food stamps, but some are considered supplements and are not eligible for the SNAP funds.
The easiest strategy to determine whether or not an item is considered a supplement is to look at the product label. If the product has a Supplement Facts label, it is not eligible for purchase. However, if it has a Nutrition Facts label, it is likely eligible for purchase assuming that there are no disqualifying characteristics.
For more information about what you may or may not purchase using SNAP food benefits, download our free guide.
How are food stamps benefits amounts calculated in Massachusetts?
Food stamp benefits are determined based on your household size and income, which is evaluated during the application process. However, be mindful that the USDA has a predetermined maximum SNAP allotment according to household size. As such, a household may not receive more than the maximum allotment.
As a SNAP recipient, you are expected to contribute 30 percent of your net monthly income to food expenses. To calculate this figure, multiply your net monthly income by 0.3. Then, to calculate your SNAP benefit amount, subtract that figure from the maximum allotment permitted for your household size.
Alternatively, you may estimate the amount of benefits you will receive using a food stamp calculator. This tool is generally free and available online. To use a SNAP calculator, you will need to input information about your household, income and expenses. Then, the algorithm will estimate how much you may receive in benefits.
When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Massachusetts?
Your application will be processed within 30 days from the date that you submit it to the DTA. In certain urgent cases, you may qualify for an expedited processing period. In that case, your application will be processed in seven days.
Regardless of the processing period, you will receive benefits from the date when you originally applied. Your benefits will be loaded onto an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that may be used just like a debit card at the cash register. During the duration of your enrollment in the program, your card will be reloaded with SNAP benefits on a monthly basis.
For more information about how to use your food stamp benefits, download our free guide.