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Good Question: What Can You Buy With Food Stamps?

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In an average month, 514,900 Minnesotans receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

The average monthly payment is $117.26 per person.

In a visit to Bergan’s SuperValu Foods, WCCO loaded seven items into a grocery cart – cookies, candy, ice cream, dishwashing detergent, hot macaroni and cheese, dog food, and steak – to test shoppers on their knowledge of what’s eligible.

“I believe you can’t get sugary foods like cereals,” said one woman.

“I wouldn’t think you’d be able to get the ice cream or the candy or the cookies,” said a man.

“I’ve heard people can even buy beer with their food stamps,” said another.

All were incorrect.

In general, the benefits are only for food and non-alcoholic drinks. Cookies, candy, ice cream and steak are allowed.

Hot foods already prepared such as the macaroni and cheese from the deli are not approved.

Non-food items — such as the detergent and pet foods — are not covered.

It’s a long-running debate over whether taxpayers should fund the purchases of foods with high sugar and fat content.
“I think if people are not eating well in the first place, the last thing they need is a sugary drink,” said one man. “And if I’m paying for it, I think I have a say.”

SNAP is a federal USDA program administered by the state Department of Human Services.

“Families should be able to spend these SNAP dollars on the foods they think are best for their families,” said DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, “as opposed to having the state second guess every single purchasing decision.

“Having said that, I think it’s very appropriate for the state and federal government to say, ‘Look there are some places where we’re going to draw the line.’”

Jesson said Minnesota, more than other states, allows recipients to use their SNAP benefits to buy fresh foods at farmers markets, as well as buy seeds and plants to grow their own food.

William Ryan Dalton, 23, said he receives food assistance payments and he has maintained healthy weight.

“But that’s because I take care of myself,” he said. “That right there, that’s not going to benefit me, all that pop and soda. That’s not going to help me.”

But many critics point out, people do make bad choices, and this has become a public health issue.

If a shopper using a benefit card goes through the checkout lane with an unapproved item, the register should catch it.

“The computer will pretty much tell us what’s on the list and what’s not,” said Russell Smith, the manager of Bergan’s. “At the end of the order, it will separate the food stamp items from the non-food stamp items and it’ll give you a cash total at the end.”

Dozens of cases of food-assistance fraud are uncovered each year in Minnesota.

They include people buying or selling their benefit cards, or exchanging their cards for unapproved items.

The DHS encourages people to https://fraudhotline.dhs.mn.gov/” target=”_blank”>report suspected fraud online or by calling 651-431-3968 or 1-800-627-9977.

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