Watch Your SNAP Benefits Grow

Often, when I am out in the field working with clients, I get asked the question: What can SNAP benefits be used to purchase?  The answer often surprises people.

According to the Illinois Department of Human Services:

SNAP benefits CAN be used to buy

• Any food or food product for human consumption

• Seeds and plants for use in home gardens to produce food

SNAP benefits CANNOT be used to buy

• Hot foods ready to eat

• Food intended to be heated in the store

• Lunch counter items or foods to be eaten in the store

• Vitamins or medicines

• Pet foods

• Any nonfood items (except seeds and plants)

• Alcoholic beverages

• Tobacco

It seems as though one of the most under-utilized assets of the SNAP program is the option to purchase seeds and plants.  While it may require a bit more effort, these two choices can yield a great deal of food for a smaller cost, thus stretching SNAP benefits further.
Let’s take a closer look at the above statement with a concrete example.  If you were to purchase a bunch of fresh broccoli prepackaged at the grocery store, it would cost about $1.50, depending on the store you purchase from.

However, if you were to use SNAP benefits to purchase broccoli seeds, it would cost about $1.00.  Furthermore, with a little TLC, the broccoli seeds could yield food for your family for many meals, instead of just one.

Another little known fact about SNAP benefits is that the Illinois LINK card can be used at many local farmers markets.  To view a list of all the farmers markets in Illinois that accept LINK, click here.

As we all strive to consume as much fresh produce as possible while sticking to our budget, this option for redeeming SNAP benefits can be very helpful.  Some farmers markets even offer a program in which they will match up to approximately $25 when customers pay with their LINK card.

In those cases, clients could end up getting $50 worth of fresh produce for only $25 of SNAP benefits.  These purchases also help stimulate the local economy!  Check with your local farmers market to see if they offer a similar program.

Redeeming SNAP benefits at a farmers market that accepts them is just as easy as using them in a grocery store!  To view the official instructions as listed by the Illinois Department of Human Services, click here.

The simplified instructions are as follows:

1.      Check to see if your local farmers market accepts SNAP benefits.

2.     Visit the farmers market and make some delicious selections.

3.     Use your Illinois LINK card to make payment in one of two ways, depending on which system the market has in place:

a.  Use a POS (point of sale) device that has the ability to record sales internally.  This device will designate a code for each farmer and can produce multiple receipts. When LINK customers complete their selection of eligible food items, the vendor will write the total amount due for the sale on a paper receipt and instruct the customer to proceed to the centrally located Customer Service Table for payment.
At the Customer Service Table, the Link customer swipes their Link card through the POS device and enters their secret PIN. If approved, the Customer Service staff will print three receipts for each sale: one each for the customer, vendor and market. The Link customer will be given two receipts and told to return one to the vendor, where they will exchange the vendor’s receipt for their selections.

b.  Use tickets or tokens specifically designed for the farmers market. Markets may use tickets with a watermark and serial number or wooden tokens with the market logo.  The tickets or tokens are usually $1.00 each. No change back is allowed.

The first step for the Link customers is to go to the Customer Service Table to purchase the markets tickets or tokens by swiping their Link card through the POS device and entering their secret PIN. If approved, the POS receipt shows the total dollar value of the tickets or tokens purchased, and the remaining balance on the Link account.
The market staff dispenses the tickets or tokens for the value of the Link transaction and keeps a record of the transaction. Unused tickets or tokens can be returned for credit on the Link account at the end of the same day, or redeemed for eligible food items at the same market on another market day.

    Kayla Kinser is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank



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