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Learn About SNAP Benefits in Washington D.C.

Food stamps in Washington D.C. have been replaced with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, which look and work like ATM cards. This change has made it easier for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to access their benefits, check their balance and purchase foods at approved grocery stores and farmers markets. Businesses that accept EBT cards will usually post a sign so that recipients know they can use their benefits there.

If you are qualified to receive SNAP benefits, you must learn which types of foods you may buy with your EBT card. These regulations were established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are implemented by the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS). Following the purchasing guidelines will help you maintain your eligibility for the program and prevent your benefit allotment from being reduced. For more information on approved and prohibited items, continue reading below.

Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Washington D.C.?

Participating in the SNAP program in D.C. can expand your food budget so that you and your household do not go hungry. By following the program recommendations, you may be able to use your benefits to improve the diet and overall health of your household.

You can use your SNAP food stamps, which are now offered on EBT cards, to buy the following foods:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Meat substitutes, such as tofu
  • Dairy products
  • Breads, grains and cereals
  • Snack foods
  • Non-alcoholic beverages

Your monthly benefit allotment is not only limited to the items listed above. For instance, you may buy seeds or plants if they are used to produce food for the household.

Additionally, you do not have to stick to raw or uncooked foods, such as raw meat or boxed pasta. Products such as granola bars, chips, popcorn and other snacks do not have to be cooked are still approved under program guidelines.

These items are defined by the USDA as accessory foods. Thus, they should not make up the majority of your diet, but you are within your rights to buy them using your benefits.

According to the rules of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, other accessory food items which may be purchased with your benefits include:

  • Bakery items, such as cookies, doughnuts, pies and cakes.
  • Condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, hot sauce, nut butter and jam.
  • Baking ingredients, including baking soda, baking powder, flour, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder.
  • Cooking ingredients, such as dry seasonings, salt, pepper, vegetable oil and shortening.

Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Washington D.C.

If you participate in this program, your SNAP assistance in D.C. will come with several responsibilities. Namely, you may not sell your benefits to others and you may not purchase prohibited items.

It is important to know which items you cannot buy with your benefits before you go shopping, so that you do not have issues in the checkout line. Your card may even reject the purchase of certain prohibited items.

You may not use your monthly benefits to buy:

  • Alcohol, including beer, wine and liquor.
  • Tobacco, cigarettes and vape products.
  • Vitamins, medicines and other supplements.
  • Live animals.
  • Prepared foods and hot foods.
  • Pet foods.
  • Paper products, cleaning supplies, toiletries and cosmetics.

Some of the rules regarding your SNAP food benefits may be confusing. For instance, the prepared foods rule is complicated because you may use your EBT card to buy bakery items and snacks, which are ready to eat. You may even buy cold cuts from behind a counter. However, these products are not meant to be eaten in the store and are therefore approved by the USDA.

Foods that are meant to be eaten in the store, such as a hot meal or a fresh sandwich, are prohibited because they are considered restaurant foods. Therefore, restaurants may not be authorized by SNAP. According to federal guidelines, a business is considered a restaurant when 50 percent of its gross sales are made from heated and prepared foods.

Furthermore, the food stamps program in D.C. does allow you to purchase live animals in certain circumstances. You may buy live shellfish, for instance, as long as they are removed from the water and you intend to prepare and cook them at home. You may also buy livestock or live fish from a market as long as it is slaughtered before you pick it up.

The rule concerning supplements may also be somewhat confusing, because these items are technically food. However, most vitamins and medicines have supplement labels, not nutrition labels. As a result, you may not buy supplements such as gummy vitamins, whey protein or even certain teas. To avoid buying the wrong item, make sure you check its label. To gain an in-depth understanding of which foods you can buy with your benefits, download our free guide.

How are food stamps benefits amounts calculated in Washington D.C.?

Using a food stamp calculator may give you a better idea of how much you may receive in benefits if you meet program eligibility standards. These calculators, commonly known as benefit estimators, are sometimes offered by third-party websites that are not affiliated with the D.C. DHS.

You will receive an estimate on your monthly benefit allotment if you enter the following information into the calculator:

  • Your household’s gross monthly income
  • The size of your household
  • The age of each household member
  • Your monthly rent or mortgage payment
  • Your monthly utility payment

Keep in mind that a benefits estimator is different from a SNAP calculator, which determines your eligibility instead.

Whether you use an estimator or not, your allotment will depend primarily on your income and the number of people in your household when you complete the application process. In addition, every household size has a maximum allotment. A household of three people, for instance, has a maximum benefit allotment of $505.

When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Washington D.C.?

Once you are approved for the D.C. food stamps program, the DHS will send you a notification. You will receive your EBT card soon after by mail, so it may take between two and seven days for you to receive the card.

Your benefits will be automatically loaded onto the card each month. The DHS will determine the day of the month your allotment will be deposited into your EBT account. Get more information on SNAP benefits by downloading our guide today.