If you have been approved for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, it is important to know how you are allowed to utilize your benefits. The SNAP program is administered on a local level by the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS), but overseen on a national level by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). That means that your SNAP purchases must align with the regulations established by both the USDA and the DHS.
In general, you can use your SNAP benefits to buy almost all food items with certain exceptions, such as alcohol. You will make these purchases using an electronic balance transfer (EBT) card. You can use your EBT card in the same way that you would use a debit or credit card at the cash register. Read on for more information about how to use your SNAP benefits in Rhode Island.
Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Rhode Island?
You may only purchase certain items using your food stamp benefits in Rhode Island. The foods that are eligible for purchase with your benefits are divided into two main categories: staple and accessory foods. Staple foods are those that make up the majority of a healthy diet such as:
- Fruits and vegetables.
- Meat, poultry and fish.
- Dairy products.
- Bread and cereal.
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 purchasing them.
You may also purchase accessory food items using your SNAP benefits. Accessory food items can include desserts, snack foods and other items that are not necessarily considered healthy, such as soda.
You may also purchase items that would supplement or complement a meal such as seasonings, flours, oils and juices. In general, as long as an item is food and does not have any disqualifying qualities (see below), it is available for purchase with SNAP assistance.
Finally, you may use your benefits to purchase seeds or plants that will be used to provide food for the household. For example, a tomato plant that will be kept in the home and harvested for its fruit would be an acceptable purchase under this food stamps program rule.
Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Rhode Island
It’s important to note that there are certain items you may not buy with your RI food stamp benefits. The major category of ineligible items for food stamp purchase is nonfood items. Although this may seem obvious, many nonfood items are still a major part of a household’s monthly purchases and available at many grocery stores. Some of these items include:
- Pet food
- Hygiene items
- Cosmetic products
- Cleaning supplies
- Tobacco products
In addition to nonfood items, there are certain foods that cannot be bought under the SNAP program. These items include:
- Medicines, supplements and vitamins
- Prepared food or hot food
- Live animals
Some items that are supplements may be easily confused for food items. For example, some energy drinks are considered supplements while others are considered food items. The easiest way to make this distinction is to look at the product label. If the label has a Supplement Facts label, then it is not eligible for purchase. However, if the product has a Nutrition Facts label, it likely is eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
Additionally, food stamps may not be used to buy food for immediate consumption. This includes food that would be purchased in a restaurant. It also includes foods that are ready to eat when you purchase them in-store, such as hot or prepared foods.
For example, some grocery stores sell rotisserie chickens that are hot and ready to eat once purchased. This item would be ineligible for purchase under this program. To help you identify what these items are, look for labels such as “hot-and-ready” and “grab-and-go.”
For more information about what you can and cannot buy with food stamps, download our free guide today.
How are food stamps benefits amounts calculated in Rhode Island?
The amount of SNAP food benefits your receive will depend on your household size and income. The USDA already has a maximum allotment outlined for households of different sizes. The larger the household, the higher the maximum possible allotment is.
As a Rhode Island food stamps recipient, you are expected to use 30 percent of your net monthly income on food expenses. To calculate how much you may receive in benefits, multiply your net monthly income by .30. Then, take that figure and subtract it from the maximum allotment for your household size. This will be the amount you can expect to receive in benefits.
Alternatively, you may use a food stamp calculator to determine how much you may receive in benefits. This tool is free to use and available online. To use it, you will need to enter information about your household income and size. The tool will then estimate how much you may be eligible for in SNAP benefits.
For more information on benefits, download our free guide.
When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Rhode Island?
Once you submit your food stamp application, the DHS will process it within 30 days. In some cases, you may qualify for an expedited processing period. In order to qualify for expedited processing, you must demonstrate immediate financial need. For example, households that make less than $150 will be eligible for an expedited processing period.
Regardless of when your application is processed, you will receive your SNAP benefits on an EBT card once you are approved. This EBT card can be used in the same way as a debit card at a store’s cash register. Each month, the card will be reloaded with new funds for you to use as you see best.