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Food Stamps

Guide to the EBT Electronic Benefit Transfer Card

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You need to be familiar with the EBT electronic benefit transfer system if you apply for food stamps. This federal program, which is also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), uses EBT to distribute benefits to enrollees. This tool looks like any credit or debit card that banks issue to clients. Once you have your EBT card, you can use it to buy approved groceries at participating stores.

You generally cannot use your food stamp EBT card for cash at an ATM. However, you can use these cards to buy food for your family. The more you learn about these cards, the fewer surprises you can expect to have once you start swiping them at checkouts.

Where and How to Apply for an EBT Card

Usually, you can apply for an EBT card online or at your local food stamp office. Regardless of the method you choose, you should take your time filling out the SNAP application. When completing the application, you are expected to provide many different types of information about your household demographics and finances. Expect to provide documentation relating to your:

  • Monthly family income.
  • Assets and quantifiable resources.
  • Monthly expenses.
  • Immigration status.
  • Employment status.

What can an EBT card buy?

You may wonder, “What can you buy with an EBT card?” It is important that you understand the types of items you can purchase with your food stamps funds. Generally, you can use your SNAP benefits to buy the following types of groceries for you and your family:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Grains and starches
  • Dairy products
  • Meats and other proteins
  • Desserts and snack foods
  • Seeds and plants that you can eat

How to Track My EBT Card in the Mail

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Once you are approved to receive SNAP benefits, you may want to track your EBT card so you know when it will arrive. Generally, there is no way to track your EBT card in the mail. However, you should be able to contact your local food stamp office to see if your card has been mailed yet.

Where can you use an EBT card?

Once you apply for an EBT card and receive it in the mail, you can start using your benefits. However, be sure that the store you plan on using your benefits with is approved to accept EBT cards as a form of payment. For example, you can use your EBT card at Costco and other similar locations. Usually, large chain stores permit you to pay with your SNAP EBT benefits. Some smaller independent stores may also allow you to pay with EBT. Regardless of where you shop, you should confirm whether the store accepts food stamps before you visit. If the grocery store does not accept SNAP, your transaction will be denied. In these instances, you would need another form of payment to complete your purchase.

 Can you use your EBT card out of state? 

Under most circumstances, you may use your EBT card in a state where it was not issued. However, be sure that you do not do this too frequently. Federal SNAP rules indicate that you can only apply for food stamps in the state you live in. If you are consistently using your EBT benefits in a state where you do not live, it may cause suspicion. It could appear to federal workers that you do not actually live in the state where you applied.  In any case, if you have legitimate reasons for using your EBT funds in a different state, it should not cause a problem.

How to Check Your EBT Card Balance

You should be sure to track your EBT card balance regularly. This helps to make sure you are not being over or undercharged at stores. Additionally, you should keep track of your EBT balance so you always have enough funds to pay for your groceries. Depending on your state, you may have different ways you can check your remaining benefits. For example, you may be able to call a customer service number and hear your account information. To do this, you need to call your state’s EBT card balance phone number. You can also use your EBT login credentials and see the amount of benefits you have left online. Different stores may also give you the option of checking into the electronic benefit transfer system. In these instances, you can review your balance at an ATM or cash register point of sale (POS) terminal.

What to Do if You Have a Lost EBT Card

If you have a lost EBT card, report this information immediately. If someone else has your card in his or her possession, the thief can spend your benefits. Once your funds are lost for the month, the government cannot replace them. Therefore, it is important that you cancel an EBT card as soon as you notice it is lost. If you are out of the house and do not have access to the internet, call the EBT card cancellation number for your state. If you have internet access, you may also be able to report this information online. You should also contact your local food stamp office if your EBT card is not working. If your card does not function properly, you cannot use it to make purchases at the supermarket.