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Learn About SNAP Benefits in Tennessee

The Tennessee Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income families and individuals afford groceries on a monthly basis. This program, which is also referred to as food stamps, provides monthly benefits that can be used to buy certain items at grocery stores, farmers’ markets and other approved places. Beneficiaries of the SNAP program can receive assistance for a set amount of time. Once this period ends, participants can renew their benefits as long as they still meet the eligibility requirements.

SNAP food stamps in Tennessee can only be used on certain items. Furthermore, benefits may only be spent at approved locations. Even at supermarkets and other approved establishments, there are some food items that participants cannot buy with their benefits. Read below to learn more about what SNAP benefits can and cannot buy, and discover other important information that all beneficiaries should know.

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

Tennessee food stamp benefits can be used for a wide variety of healthy foods. As a general rule, most food stamps are meant to be used in exchange for staple food items, which are basic nutritious items that make up the majority of a person’s diet. Overall, these items can be eaten on their own or cooked with other ingredients to make a meal. Staple food categories include:

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
  • Dairy products and non-dairy alternatives.
  • Bread, cereal and other grains.

In addition to the foods listed above, you can also use your SNAP food benefits for purchasing cooking ingredients, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. These items are considered accessory foods due to the fact that they usually cannot constitute a full meal on their own. Examples of accessory foods include:

  • Certain snacks, such as cookies, potato chips or candy.
  • Baking ingredients like four, sugar or baking powder.
  • Spices and seasonings.
  • Condiments and sauces, such as ketchup, mayo, soy sauce or barbeque sauce.
  • Certain energy drinks, coffee, juice or tea.

SNAP assistance can be used on all of these items regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen, canned or boxed. Learn more about the approved food items by downloading our guide.

You can use Tennessee SNAP benefits at any approved store in the U.S. As such, you do not necessarily have to shop at a local grocery store. Even though the majority of food stamps are spent nearby the home of a beneficiary, there is no law against using your funds in a different state. This makes it easy to visit family members or take a trip to a different state while still having the ability to use your benefits.

Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Tennessee

There is often confusion about what Tennessee SNAP food benefits can and cannot be spent on. One common misconception is that you can buy hot or prepared foods as long as they come from an approved grocery store. However, this is not allowed.

While you can buy staple food items such as canned soup or frozen chicken, you cannot buy hot, ready-to-eat soup or chicken at the deli counter, for example. Even though both of these foods fall into approved categories, they are not allowed due to the fact that they are already hot and ready to eat.

Furthermore, you may not buy any non-food items. Examples of prohibited items include paper products, cookware, pet food, cosmetics and cleaning supplies. Even if these things are sold at an approved retailer, they cannot be purchased with your benefits.

The food stamps program also limits where you can use your benefits. In general, there are certain locations where you are never allowed to spend your funds. For instance, two common places include casinos and cruise ships. Even if you were able to find an approved food item in one of these establishments, you cannot spend your benefits on it.

Additionally, food stamps cannot be used in most restaurants. Very few restaurants are allowed to accept SNAP. Even if a restaurant takes these benefits as payment, it typically is only allowed to serve SNAP beneficiaries who are seniors, homeless or have a disability, upon proving that they are not able to cook meals at home.

Lastly, Tennessee food stamps cannot be withdrawn as cash. In other words, you cannot take your benefits out as cash at an ATM or receive cash back with a purchase at the grocery store. There is often confusion about this rule because other types of benefits may be eligible for cash withdrawals. If you receive more than one type of assistance, just keep in mind that your SNAP benefits can never be taken out as cash, even if your other benefits can.

How are food stamp benefits amounts calculated in Tennessee?

Once you know where you can and cannot use SNAP benefits, it helps to learn how your benefit amount is determined. Generally speaking, the amount of food stamps you receive is based on your family size and income level. If you used a food stamp calculator to determine your eligibility for this program, you may have noticed that a larger family size or a lower income increases the amount of benefits you would receive.

A SNAP calculator can also determine your eligibility to receive assistance if you live in a household that includes seniors or people with disabilities. In most cases, a SNAP benefits calculator will show that these households qualify for benefits with a slightly higher income and a bigger amount of financial resources. However, there is still a maximum benefit amount for every household, regardless of whether it includes seniors or people with disabilities.

In any case, it is important to understand that the amount of Tennessee food stamps you receive may change over time. A change in your family size or income will usually affect the amount of your benefits in the future. Learn more about the benefits in our free guide.

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

SNAP benefits start based on the date when you started the application process by submitting your request. In most cases, you will receive an approval or denial determination within 30 days. If approved, your benefits are backdated to the day that your application was received.

You can receive TN SNAP assistance more quickly in emergency situations. For example, if you have extremely limited income and resources, you may qualify for benefits in as little as seven days.

In any case, food stamps will be automatically loaded onto an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card every month. In Tennessee, EBT cards are also referred to as Benefit Security Cards. These cards work just like a debit card to buy food at approved locations.

Last Updated: September 26, 2022