9 Surprising Things You Can Buy With EBT Cash Benefits (TANF)

things you can buy with ebt cash benefits

9 Surprising Things You Can Buy With EBT Cash Benefits (TANF)

In this community resource guide, you will learn about 8 things that you can buy with EBT cash benefits.

Getting approved for cash benefits (also known as TANF benefits) can take a significant weight off your shoulders. Now you have a monthly income that you can use for daily expenses. The only problem is you may be wondering “what can I buy with EBT cash benefits“?

Not knowing what you can purchase with your TANF cash benefits is actually a good problem. In this article, you will learn about 9 categories of items that you can buy with your benefits. Keep reading!

EBT Cash Benefits: What Are They?

EBT Cash Benefits is another name for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. If you are approved for EBT cash benefits, the government will provide you with a monthly income to help with your basic needs like food and shelter.

Your state’s human services department manages the cash benefits program. If you are interested in the program this is who you will apply for benefits through.

Editor’s Note: There are many names for government aid programs. If you come across or hear any of these terms, know that they all refer to EBT cash payments: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF, TANF Cash, or Welfare are some examples of this.

If you are approved for EBT cash benefits, you will receive an EBT card. This is similar to a debit card and it can be used at most stores that accept credit or debit cards.

Texas Lone Star Card EBT
This is an example of an EBT cash benefits card. Each state will have a different design so your card will not look the same as this. This is an EBT card in Texas. This card is called the Lone Star card. Again, your state will have a different name and design for its EBT card.

Is EBT Cash Benefits The Same As Food Stamp?

No, these benefit programs are not the same. Recipients in both programs receive an EBT card, but the things you can purchase in these programs vary.

EBT cash benefits or TANF allows you to purchase food, housing, utilities, and other necessities for you and your family. The food stamp program only allows you to purchase food items.

EBT Cash Benefits (TANF)  SNAP (Food Stamps
How do you apply for this program?  You will need to contact your state’s health and human services department to apply for TANF.  You will need to contact your state’s health and human services department to apply for SNAP benefits. 
How long can you receive benefits?  The maximum timeframe is 5 years. There is no limit to the amount of time you can receive food stamps if you have dependents (under 18 years old) living with you. If you’re an adult with no children the longest you can receive SNAP is typically 3 years.
What can you purchase with this program?  With TANF you can purchase food, housing, utilities, pay for transportation expenses, and other necessities for you and your family.  With food stamps, you can essentially only buy food items. Now there are some surprising things you can buy with food stamps like birthday cakes, food gift baskets, and hunting equipment if you live in Alaska.
Can I withdraw cash from an ATM with this program?  Yes, if you receive TANF benefits you can make cash withdrawals No, the food stamp program does not allow cash withdrawals from an ATM. You can only use the EBT card to make food purchases. 
Other Names For This Program EBT Cash Benefits, Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, TANF, TANF Cash, or Welfare SNAP, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Food Stamps,  

What Can You Buy With EBT Cash Benefits?

Here are 9 things you can (typically) purchase with your TANF benefits.

  1. Food
  2. Clothing
  3. Housing
  4. Utilities
  5. Furniture & Appliances
  6. Car Repairs
  7. Phone Services
  8. Laundry & Personal Hygiene
  9. Medical Equipment That Medicaid Will Not Pay For

Each state has different allowances under its cash benefits program so you will want to talk to your state’s human services department to get confirmation on these items.

1.) Food can be paid for with EBT Cash Benefits

With EBT cash benefits, you can purchase food items like meat, fruits, and vegetables. You can also purchase non-food items like cooking oil, paper towels, and seeds/plants that you plan to use as a source of food.

Here are more food items that you can buy with TANF benefits:

  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Bread and cereals
  • Canned goods
  • Snacks
  • Baby food
  • Junk food
  • Drinks like soda, coffee, tea, and juices

These are essentially the only items that you can buy with cash assistance and food stamp benefits. The other items on this list cannot be purchased with your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

2.) Clothing can be purchased with TANF

If you are wondering “can you buy clothes with EBT” the answer is yes. Buying clothing for you and your family is also allowed with EBT cash benefits. This includes items like shirts, pants, hats, and shoes. You can also use your benefits to purchase accessories like belts, scarves, and sunglasses.

3.) Housing

Your TANF benefits can be used to pay for housing costs like rent, mortgage, security deposits, and utility bills. This also includes costs like water, electricity, home repairs, and more.

4.) Utilities

If you need help paying your gas or electric bill your cash benefits can be used for that as well. This also includes items like water, trash, and sewer services.

Your EBT cash benefits can also be used to pay for a phone landline or cell phone service. This is important because it allows you to stay connected with your case worker, doctor appointments, and more.

Internet service is another utility that you can pay for with your benefits. The flexibility of the internet has given rise to an increase in job opportunities. You can look for work, complete schoolwork, and stay in touch with family with home internet.

5.) Furniture & Appliances

Furniture and appliances are necessary for every home but they can be expensive. If you need to purchase items like beds, dressers, a couch, or a table you can use your benefits. The same goes for appliances like a refrigerator, stove, washer & dryer, and more.

While these items are not necessarily cheap, it is important to have them in your home. With EBT cash benefits, you can make sure that your family has the furniture and appliances that you need.

6.) Transportation

Contrary to what many believe the government does not have a “free car program”. The only program that pays for transportation expenses is the EBT cash benefit program. If your car breaks down if you need money for bus tickets, or gas for your vehicle you can use your benefits to pay for these things.

If you do not have a car, the EBT cash benefit program can still help you get around. You can use your benefits to pay for bus tickets or taxi cabs. This is important because it allows you to get to work, school, the doctor, and more.

No matter what your transportation situation is, the EBT cash benefit program can help you out.

7.) Phone Services

TANF will also pay for your phone bill whether that is for a landline or a cell phone. Having a phone with minutes will help you to stay connected to a family member, your boss, or your case manager.

8.) Laundry & Personal Hygiene

Washing your clothes and cleaning yourself is another basic need. Your temporary assistance for needy families benefits can be used to pay for laundry services and personal hygiene items. This includes items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and more.

You can also use your benefits to purchase a washer and dryer if you do not have one in your home. This is important because it allows you to wash your clothes at home instead of having to go to a laundromat.

Having clean clothes and being able to take care of yourself are important parts of life. With electronic benefits transfer cash benefits, you can make sure that you have what you need.

9.) Medical Supplies Not Paid For By Medicaid

Lastly, you can use your public assistance benefits to pay for medical supplies that IS NOT COVERED BY MEDICAID.

The durable medical equipment that TANF can be used to purchase will be determined by the state you live in. Each state has different rules regarding DME purchases with Medicaid benefits.

To know what you can buy with EBT cash benefits, you first need to see if your state’s Medicaid program covers those items.

There are many various sets of rules, and in general, Medicaid will cover medical equipment if it is determined to be medically essential, cost-effective, and fit their stringent definition of what is durable medical equipment.

You can find the health department in your state that manages the Medicaid program by visiting the CDC website.

How To Apply For EBT Cash Benefits?

You must contact the health and human services office in your state to apply for TANF. You can find your state’s contact information in the table below.

StatePhone NumberWebsite
Washington DC202-724-5506Website
New Hampshire603-271-9700Website
New Jersey800-687-9512Website
New Mexico800-283-4465Website
New York800-342-3009MyBenefits New York _Website
North Carolina800-662-7030Website
North Dakota800-755-2716Website
Puerto Rico787-289-7600WebWebsitesite
Rhode Island855-697-4347Website
South Carolina800-616-1309Website
South Dakota877-999-5612Website
Virgin Islands340-774-2399Website
West Virginia800-642-8589Website

Things You Cannot Buy With EBT Cash Benefits?

You cannot use your TANF benefits to purchase these items:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Cigarettes
  • Lottery Tickets
  • Gamble
  • Play Bingo
  • Adult Entertainment
  • Guns
  • Bullets
  • Purchase illegal drugs like marijuana

These are all items that you cannot use your cash benefits to purchase. Buying any of these things with your benefits could result in losing your benefits.

It is important to know what you can and cannot buy with your EBT cash benefits. Use your benefits wisely and make sure that you are only using them for basic needs.


With EBT cash benefits you can typically pay for things like:

  • Food
  • Housing
  • Car repairs
  • Gas, electricity, and water bills
  • Clothing
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Medical supplies that Medicaid does not pay for

The EBT cash benefits program is not the same as food stamps. The difference is that you make a cash withdrawal from the ATM with TANF benefits (SNAP you cannot), cash benefits allow you to purchase more items than just food, and the income limits to qualify for TANF are typically lower than SNAP.

Remember each state has a different TANF program. This means that some states may allow you to purchase certain items on this list, while others will not. You will want to call your state’s health and human services department to get clarity about the items you can purchase with EBT cash benefits in your state. 

If you are interested in applying for this program you will need to contact your state’s health department to learn about eligibility requirements.

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