The Washington Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides benefits that you can use to buy food at participating stores. This program, also known as food stamps or the Basic Food program, provides you with monthly funds that supplement your grocery budget.
The program works with many different stores, and there are countless items you can buy. When you are approved for SNAP food stamps, you will receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that looks and works like a debit card. The only difference is that you can only use your EBT card for approved food items. Below, learn more about food stamp benefits in Washington and discover what you can buy.
Which food items can you buy using food stamps in Washington?
SNAP assistance can be used to purchase many different types of food. Before learning what you can buy with food stamps, it helps to learn where you can shop with an EBT card.
Many grocery stores, convenience stores, supermarkets and farmers’ markets accept benefits. Simply look for an EBT or QUEST logo in the store’s window to see if benefits are accepted at that location. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) also provides resources for finding participating stores.
Note: Washington SNAP benefits can be spent in any state due to the fact that each state uses the same system to process these payments. Therefore, you can travel anywhere in the U.S. or shop in a neighboring state while still having access to your food benefits.
SNAP food benefits can be spent on staple foods, which are items that make up the majority of your diet and can be found in the major food groups. Benefits may also be used on accessory foods, which are things that supplement or complement a meal. Accessory foods generally do not constitute a full meal on their own, or cannot be eaten alone.
Because the food stamps program allows you to buy so many different types of food, grocery stores usually do not place special labels on approved items. Therefore, it is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with approved food items. Washington food stamps can be spent on any of the following products:
- Fruits and vegetables like fresh apples, canned corn or frozen mixed veggies
- Protein items such as meat, fish, eggs or tofu
- Dairy products including milk, cheese, butter, infant formula and other products
- Grains such as pasta, cereal, bread or oatmeal
- Snack foods like chips, nuts, cookies or candy
- Plants and seeds, which you can use to grow produce at home
- Cooking ingredients such as flour, baking powder, sugar or corn starch
- Condiments, spices and seasonings like salt, mayonnaise or garlic powder
Learn more about the types of food you are allowed to purchase by reading our free guide.
Products You Cannot Buy Using Food Stamps in Washington
The food stamps program also comes with a few restrictions that you will want to be aware of. First, SNAP assistance cannot be spent in certain locations. For example, you are not allowed to use an EBT card in a casino, on a cruise ship, in a liquor store or at other similar locations. Because EBT cards are not accepted in these places at all, you cannot buy food even if you were able to find eligible items in one of these locations.
Second, SNAP benefits may not be withdrawn in the form of cash. If you receive more than one type of benefit on the same EBT card, it is important that you understand how each benefit may be used. Other programs, such as cash assistance, may be withdrawn at an ATM or similar locations. However, your SNAP assistance cannot be used in this way. Furthermore, you cannot request cash back with a purchase when spending your SNAP balance, even if you are buying eligible foods at an approved store.
Third, food stamps may not be used in restaurants in most cases. There are very few restaurant locations that take these benefits. Restaurants that do work with the SNAP program are usually only permitted to serve participants who are elderly, homeless or disabled and unable to cook at home.
Finally, SNAP food stamps cannot be spent on certain products. Prohibited items you should familiarize yourself with include:
- Beer, wine, liquor and other types of alcohol.
- Cigarettes, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products.
- Food not meant for humans, such as pet food.
- Foods that are sold already hot, like a meal from the deli counter.
- Prepared or ready-to-eat items such as a cheese platter or a tray of pre-cut fruits.
How are food stamp benefits amounts calculated in Washington?
A SNAP calculator can be a useful tool for determining whether you are eligible for assistance. In most cases, a food stamp calculator will not tell you how much assistance you can receive. Applying for benefits is the best way to determine whether you qualify, as well as your exact benefit amount.
In general, the amount of SNAP assistance you receive is based on your household size and income. Your allotment may go up or down in the future if your eligibility changes.
Your benefit amount will be different if you are granted Food Assistance Program (FAP) benefits. The FAP program is similar to SNAP, but it is for people who cannot qualify for regular SNAP based on their citizenship status. If you get FAP assistance, be aware that your benefit amount will be 75 percent of the benefit level for SNAP.
In any case, the amount of SNAP assistance you receive is not meant to cover the entire cost of your groceries for the month. Instead, your benefits are meant to supplement your existing income. With this in mind, you should plan on spending some of your own money to afford all the food you need.
When do you start receiving SNAP benefits after applying in Washington?
You will receive your first allotment of SNAP food stamps within 30 days of applying for assistance. However, the DSHS may grant benefits within seven days if you have extremely limited income.
After your initial benefit award, food stamps will be available on the same day each month. Your benefits will be loaded onto your card regardless of whether that day falls on a weekend or holiday. In most cases, any unused benefits will roll over to the next month as well. Learn more about when and how you will receive benefits by reading our free guide.