The federal government runs and funds food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), while states screen applicants and administer SNAP benefits to residents. Hence, while the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) gives you SNAP benefits every month, DHS follows guidelines set by the federal government.
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an office in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sets and updates federal guidelines for SNAP. FNS publishes guidelines about applicant eligibility, determining benefits, distributing benefits and using benefits. DHS case workers use these guidelines to run the Tennessee program. Actual stamps have been phased out and Tennessee now distributes benefits automatically using a debit card system.
DHS distributes SNAP benefits to low-income households so that Tennessee residents can purchase healthy food and have a well-rounded diet. SNAP is intended to supplement a household’s food budget, and a household does not have to be impoverished to be eligible. In addition to supplementing diets, SNAP stimulates local economies and agriculture by bringing more money to grocery stores and by extension, food producers.
SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food items. DHS expects beneficiaries to use SNAP benefits at a grocery store and then make meals at home from the items purchased with a SNAP debit card. Examples of such food items include bread, vegetables (fresh or canned), meat, cereal, milk and eggs, beans, peanut butter, canned soup, pasta and rice. You cannot buy hot, prepared food with SNAP benefits.
DHS and FNS allow some exceptions to the hot, prepared food rule. Some households may be certified to use SNAP benefits for prepared meals. Households with elderly individuals, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, homeless individuals and addicts in treatment programs can be certified to use SNAP benefits for qualifying prepared meals. However, these prepared meals must come from a communal living facility (such as a retirement community), an NGO (such as a soup kitchen or Meals on Wheels) or a government program, not commercial restaurants.
FNS expressly prohibits SNAP beneficiaries from using benefits to buy items that are often present in grocery stores but that are not food, such as alcohol, tobacco products, household items (such as soap, light bulbs or batteries), vitamins and pet food. Beneficiaries found using SNAP to purchase such items will be removed from the program.
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