SNAP, WIC, EBT — What’s the Difference?

Flickr: National Museum of American History

Historic food stamps at the Smithsonian.

In February of this year, 44 million people received federal dollars for their food budgets– over 4 million more Americans compared to the same month in 2010. The government is issuing food stamps to one out of every six D.C. residents. As DCentric prepares to look into food disparity in D.C., we broke out the differences between terms associated with government-subsidized food and payment methods.

SNAP/Food stamps: Food stamps were renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP in 2008, the goal of the program is to help recipients maintain healthy diets by making relatively expensive items like fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to those with low incomes. Applying for SNAP in some states requires pay stubs, housing information, utility bills, child support orders and bills for child or elder care. SNAP is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These benefits are for food; They do not cover items like pet food or toiletries. A list of guidelines from the USDA on what can be purchased is below.

WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children helps prevent or decrease premature births by supplementing the diets of pregnant women. It is also available to mothers of infants and children up to age five. WIC pays for essential items like milk, eggs and baby formula. WIC benefits are often distributed as specially-designed checks and may be used for a limited list of foods. That’s why, in some cases, families receive both WIC and help from other programs, like SNAP. WIC recipients are required to learn about pre-natal nutrition and breastfeeding.

EBT: Electronic Benefits Transfer cards are a federally-funded payment option offered at participating stores. SNAP distributes funds for purchasing food via EBT cards. EBT cards are more dicreet because of their resemblance to debit cards.

Households CAN use food stamp benefits to buy:
• all food intended to be eaten at home. This includes the
four staple food categories mentioned earlier as well as
nonalcoholic beverages, snack foods, soft drinks, candy,
and ice.
• seeds and plants intended to grow food (but not for growing
flowers or feeding to birds).

Households CANNOT use food stamp benefits to buy:
• beer, wine, liquor, tobacco, or cigarettes
• foods that are hot at the point of sale
• food to be eaten in the store
• vitamins or medicines
• pet foods
• nonfood items such as tissues, soaps, cosmetics, or other

  • Peace Elk

    In San Francisco, at Rainbow Grocers, you can *buy spices, but not herbs. You can buy chai, but not peppermint tea (bulk). But you *can* buy peppermint, from the produce dept. It’s ludicrous. I’m not sure if it’s Federal or CA regulations.