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If you’re just spending your benefits on groceries, you might be missing an opportunity.

Key Point

  • Non-grocery items can be purchased with SNAP benefits.
  • What you can buy with benefits depends on where you live.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps put food on the table for millions of low-income Americans each year. But many people don’t realize that rewards can be used for non-grocery purchases as well. Here are five surprising items that you can buy with SNAP benefits.

1. Dining at a restaurant

Unless you live in one of the states below, SNAP Benefits generally cannot be used to purchase restaurant meals.

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Illinois (Cook and Franklin counties only)
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Rhode Island (Providence and Washington counties only)
  • Virginia

These states participate in what is called the Restaurant Meal Program (RMP). This will allow senior, disabled or homeless adults over the age of 60 to use her SNAP benefits to purchase meals at restaurants.

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To take advantage of it, you must get approval from your state and sign a contract with the Food and Nutrition Administration.

2. Hunting and fishing equipment

Some Alaska residents take advantage of SNAP benefits to purchase the hunting and fishing gear they need to feed themselves. Only those who live in remote areas where it is difficult to go to the store and buy food are eligible.

3. Seeds and plants

Those interested in starting a garden can take advantage of SNAP benefits to purchase food-producing plants and seeds. If you choose to do this, it will require some extra work up front, but over time you’ll end up with significantly more produce than you would buy from the store. It helps you keep more money in your account for the long term.

4. Gift basket

You can buy gift baskets with SNAP rewards as long as the edible items make up at least half of that cost. It doesn’t automatically mean that the SNAP benefits cover it. It all comes down to price and how much each item contributes to the overall cost of the basket.

5. Certain Living Animals

Live animals are generally not eligible for SNAP benefits, with the exception of live lobsters. Live fish are another exception if removed from the body of water in which they were caught.

Bonus: Amazon Prime member discount

No, you cannot purchase an Amazon Prime membership with SNAP benefits. However, Amazon offers special deals for those who receive SNAP and other government benefits. Instead of paying the standard $14.99 per month, get Prime for just $6.99 per month.

Eligibility for this special rate must be verified at sign-up and every 12 months thereafter. However, doing this will give you free access to all of the membership’s services, including free shipping on Amazon items, access to Amazon Prime movies and TV shows, and unlimited photo storage.

Not all of the above is appealing or applicable, but keep that in mind. Knowing the rules of this program is key to getting the most out of it. And just because something seems irrelevant to you now doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.

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