The EBT card, or electronic benefits transfer card, is provided by the government so that those receiving government benefits can purchase food and other essentials. This card is available to qualifying families and individuals who are accepted into certain government assistance programs.
The foods stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is most widely known for giving out EBT cards to eligible families. The two other programs that offer the card are the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
The “food card,” as it is sometimes called, is distributed by state governments and sometimes goes by different state-specific names. However, funds are deposited into EBT cards each month in every state. The amount of funds depends on several factors, but household size and income are the primary factors. In the case of SNAP, an EBT card functions much like a debit card, except participants can only purchase food items and may not withdraw cash as they may do with funds from other programs. Cardholders can easily access their accounts and check their EBT balance online or by phone.
Information About EBT Benefits
As mentioned above, EBT benefits from SNAP allow cardholders to purchase food items for themselves and their families. The purpose of supplying EBT cards to families and individuals is to enable them to purchase an adequate supply of food and meet their basic nutrition needs as securely as possible. In the case of TANF, however, families are able to use their cards to pay for expenses that go beyond just food, such as rent payments, gas and school supplies.
About Approved Purchases
Most authorized EBT purchases involve food. This applies to all three EBT-eligible government programs: WIC, SNAP and TANF. EBT benefits primarily cover foods that have not been prepared in the store. This includes:
- Boxed cereals.
- Frozen meals.
- Packaged snacks.
- Certain baby foods.
Seeds are also eligible food items.
Many stores and locations are authorized to sell food products to EBT card holders. Some approved vendors and retailers include:
- Farmers markets.
- Grocery stores.
- Gas stations.
- Convenience stores.
- Certain restaurants (vary by location).
- Military commissaries.
About Ineligible Purchases
While the EBT card allows holders to purchase many types of food to feed their families, there are some food items that are not permitted under SNAP. Attempting to purchase items that are not approved can result in a declined transaction. The following are products that are not eligible for EBT card purchase:
- Any alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco and nicotine products
- Pet foods
- Ready-to-eat hot foods
- Vitamins and supplements
Even some purchase locations are prohibited from accepting EBT benefits. This is because vendors and retailers must apply and be approved to accept payment from SNAP. For example, liquor stores, bars and casinos are ineligible vendors. There is a greater range of eligible retailers for participants of TANF. However, there are still purchase that cannot be made with a TANF EBT card. Even if the following purchase are confirmed during the sale, the cardholder can still face consequences afterward for making ineligible purchases:
- Travel services
- Tobacco products
- Alcoholic beverages
- Lottery tickets
How to Use EBT Benefits
Recipients of EBT benefits can start using their funds as soon as they are deposited into their accounts. The time and date when funds are deposited depends on the assistance program and the state. Each state has different ways of determining when a recipient receives a new EBT card balance. In some states, funds are available in the beginning of the month, while others disburse funds throughout the month. Every EBT card comes with a personal identification number (PIN). Recipients are able to create their own PINs once they receive their cards. Just like with debit cards, the PIN used in point-of-sale transactions for added security.
How to Use the EBT Card Account
States offer EBT card recipients different ways to access, receive and use their benefits. Many states offer an online method to apply for benefits. Once accepted, recipients can access their online accounts and check EBT balance, change their PINs, view transaction history and report lost or stolen cards.
Learn About Food Stamps
Food stamps, or SNAP, is a popular program that provides recipients with funds through an EBT card. The food stamp card is only available for the purchase of unprepared food items. Breads, cereals, dairy and raw meats are some of the available items that recipients can purchase. SNAP benefits are available to any qualifying family and are not subject to a lifetime limit like TANF benefits are. Having a low income is a primary requirement to be able receive an EBT card for food stamps. Unused food stamps from one month can be rolled over to the next month. Funds are rolled over for a maximum of 365 days. After that, the recipient loses his or her unused benefits.
Learn About the TANF Card
The TANF card functions differently from the food stamp card. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program offers cash assistance to families with children. Recipients of TANF benefits are allowed to make purchases outside of food and grocery items. In addition, TANF participants are also permitted to make cash withdrawals from their accounts. This is the biggest difference between the TANF card and the function of EBT under the SNAP and WIC programs.
Find Out About WIC EBT
The WIC EBT card is similar to the SNAP card. Both offer food and nutritional assistance to low-income families. The WIC program, however, focuses on the nutritional needs of pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to five years of age. These families meet income requirements that do not exceed a certain percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in addition to being at risk of malnourishment. Recipients receive monthly WIC benefits in the form of cash deposited to an EBT card. They can use these funds to purchase foods meant to supplement their diets. Unlike food stamp cards, unused funds on WIC cards usually do not roll over to the next month.