Here’s What You Need To Know About EBT Cards & Benefits

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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a U.S. Department of Agriculture federal program that provides money for groceries to low-income families and individuals. SNAP is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam
Here’s what you need to know:

  • What is EBT?
    SNAP benefits are issued using EBT cards, cash and manual vouchers. Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) is the system used to distribute SNAP benefits. EBT cards work like debit cards and you can use your EBT card to pay for your groceries using SNAP benefits. Benefits are automatically loaded into your account each month.
  • Who can apply to SNAP?
    Your household must meet certain requirements to be eligible for SNAP and receive benefits. Eligibility is determined by how many people live in your home and your household’s gross (total) monthly income (130% of federal poverty guidelines). Everyone who lives together (buys and prepares meals together) is grouped as one SNAP household. There are special rules for households with elderly or disabled members: If a person is 60 or older and unable to purchase and prepare meals separately because of a permanent disability, the person and the person’s spouse may be a separate SNAP household if the others they live with don’t have much income (no more than 165% of the poverty level). These are the income limits based on household size, through Sept. 30, 2021.
  • Is EBT the same as P-EBT?
    P-EBT is the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is very similar to SNAP benefits. P-EBT is meant to provide food benefits to cover free or reduced priced meals that students would have received at school. P-EBT households can use their benefits to buy groceries at places that accept SNAP. Your P-EBT benefits are loaded onto your EBT card each month in the same way SNAP benefits are.
  • Where can I find information to apply for SNAP?
    Each state has its own application form. If your state’s application form is not online, you need to contact your local SNAP office to request one. To apply for benefits or get information about SNAP, contact your local SNAP office:
    1. Click on your state on the map
    2. Most states have an online application, and many have a version in Spanish (look under ‘State Applications’)
    3. If your state does not have an online application, call the number under ‘State SNAP Information’ or click the ‘State List of Local Office Locations’ to apply over the phone or in person.
  • How do I use my EBT card?
  1. Save the EBT Helpline toll free number: 1-888-328-6399
  2. Call this number (or online: to check your balance BEFORE you use it.
  3. Your benefits will automatically be loaded onto the card each month.
  4. Swipe your EBT card to pay for groceries.
  5. At check-out, use the PIN you were given (or created) when you enrolled.
  6. If you need a family member to be able to use your EBT benefits, contact your local agency. You can put an ‘Authorized Representative’ on your account and a separate EBT card will be sent to you.
  • Can I apply to SNAP if I don’t have documents?

SNAP is available only to U.S. citizens and limited categories of lawfully residing immigrants. Undocumented immigrants and people in the United States on temporary visas are not eligible for SNAP, for themselves. However, if you do not have documents and have U.S. citizen children/spouses,  you can apply for SNAP for your U.S. citizen children/spouse, who are eligible for SNAP.

Other categories of immigrants who are “qualified” for SNAP include:

  • Qualified immigrant adults such as lawful permanent residents (people with green cards), who have waited for five years in qualified status. But, if you have a green card and live in California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, or Washington, you do not have to wait, and can receive nutrition assistance right away.
  • Refugees, people granted asylum or withholding of deportation/removal, Cuban/Haitian entrants, certain Amerasian immigrants, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants, survivors of trafficking, qualified immigrant veterans, active duty military, and their spouses and children, lawful permanent residents with credit for 40 quarters of work history, certain Native Americans, lawfully residing Hmong and Laotian tribe members, and immigrants receiving disability-related assistance are eligible regardless of their date of entry into the U.S. 
  • Qualified immigrant seniors who were born before August 22, 1931, may be eligible if they were lawfully residing in the U.S. on August 22, 1996. 

Non-citizens who are eligible still need to meet their state’s income and resource requirements. More information on eligibility, such as income limits per household and resources for students, non-citizens, and people with disabilities can be found here

  • If I receive SNAP benefits, will I be considered a public charge?
    DHS will not consider a person receiving Medicaid (except for long-term institutionalization through Medicaid), public housing, or SNAP benefits as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination. More information on public charge here.
  • In which stores are EBT cards accepted?
    You can use your EBT card at most grocery stores, food retailers and even some farmer’s markets. There are many locations throughout each state. Use the SNAP Retailer Map here to find one near you.
  • What can I buy with EBT?
    • Fruits & vegetables
    • Meat, poultry, fish
    • Dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk etc.)
    • Breads & cereals
    • Snack foods & non-alcoholic beverages (juice, seltzer etc.)
    • Seeds and plants, which produce food for the household to eat

You CAN’T use SNAP benefits to buy:

  • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco
  • Vitamins, medicines & supplements (If it has a Supplement Facts label, it’s not eligible for SNAP purchase)
  • Live animals (shellfish, fish removed from water & animals slaughtered prior to store pick-up are NOT included in this)
  • Hot food items (like rotisserie chicken)
  • Pet foods & supplies
  • Cleaning/paper products & other household supplies
  • Personal hygiene items

If you have specific questions about your SNAP benefits or enrollment, use this directory to contact your state’s program.

California (CalFresh)

Texas (Lone Star)

Florida (ACCESS)

Kaley LaQuea is an award–winning print and digital journalist who’s been creating content since 2008. She’s passionate about economic, environmental and social justice. She has an unhealthy relationship with caffeine and two cats: Totoro and Mononoke.