How Can EBT Cards Help Households?


Almost everyone has heard of Visa, Mastercard, and American Express cards. However, have you heard of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards? You may have seen your local grocery store advertise that they accept these as payment. Getting an EBT card isn’t as simple as applying for a credit card, unfortunately. Only qualifying households receive these cards to purchase free groceries. In order to get in on these benefits, you need to know how EBT works!

What You Need to Know About Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Cards

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are actually quite simple to use and understand! They look and function just like regular debit cards. Recipients of food assistance programs can use their EBT cards to manage and spend their funds on certain food items. Although EBT cards are easy to use, one obstacle people face is where to use them. Not every store takes them as payment.

A popular nutrition program that uses EBT is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This program is also recognized as food stamps. That is because food stamps were previously how SNAP recipients received and spent their benefits until 2004.

Benefiting From the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Now that you understand a little bit about how EBT cards work, let’s discuss the benefits of receiving assistance from SNAP. It’s important to know about SNAP, because, without it, an EBT card is basically just a piece of plastic. Recipients of this nutrition assistance program receive monthly funds that can be used to purchase qualifying grocery items. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds this program. Not anyone is eligible for this assistance. The program is intended for low-income households.

What You Can and Can’t Buy Using SNAP Assistance

We mentioned a couple of times that recipients can use their EBT card to purchase qualifying items with SNAP. You may be wondering what this means exactly. SNAP has determined what items are eligible for purchase. Likewise, there is also a list of items that cannot be purchased. Since this is a nutrition assistance program, you can expect that eligible items involve most food items. The following is a list of items that can be purchased using these benefits:

  • Nonalcoholic beverages such as soda, bottled water, etc.
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Produce such as herbs, vegetables, and fruit
  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Snack foods
  • Grains such as bread, rice, and cereal

Meanwhile, the following are items that are commonly found in grocery stores but are not eligible to buy with SNAP:

  • Hygiene products such as toilet paper, shampoo, etc.
  • Medicine
  • Other non-food items such clothing, diapers, pet products, etc.
  • Vitamins and other supplements
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Live animals (except in some cases)
  • Food that is previously prepared and served hot upon purchase

The Maximum Amount of Monthly Assistance a Household Can Receive with SNAP

Now that you have a general idea of what types of food items you can purchase using SNAP benefits, let’s get into the good stuff. In order to understand how much this program can help you and your family, you need to know how much assistance is possible. Each year, the program determines the maximum amount of benefits a family can receive based on their household size. The following is applicable from October 1, 2022, through September 30, 2023:

  • A one-person household can get up to $281 per month
  • Two-person households can get up to $516 per month
  • Three-person households can get up to $740 per month
  • Four-person households can get up to $939 per month
  • Five-person households can get up to $1,116 per month
  • Six-person households can get up to $1,339 per month
  • Seven-person households can get up to $1,480 per month
  • Eight-person households can get up to $1,691 per month
  • Households that are larger than eight members can get up to $211 per additional person

The above numbers are in place for most states that offer SNAP. However, you want to keep in mind that no household is guaranteed to receive the maximum. Actually, households that are eligible for SNAP receive assistance based on their particular situation. The number of members in the household is only one factor that determines how much recipients can get.

What to Expect During the Application Process

Although SNAP is provided by the federal government, state agencies are in charge of managing the program. Therefore, you can expect to work directly with your state agency during the process. Not every state handles it the same way. However, there is a general procedure that you may be able to anticipate.

The best first step is to reach out to your state agency for more information about starting an application. You can do this by making an appointment to go to the office in person. However, it may benefit you to call or go online first. Once your application is submitted, your SNAP office typically needs 30 days to look it over. During the 30 days that you’re waiting, you may need to gather supporting documents to verify your application. Additionally, your SNAP office can ask you to complete an eligibility interview. After everything is said and done, your SNAP office will notify you of whether your application has been approved.

Is There Anything You Can Do If Your Application is Denied?

Great question! The answer is yes, there is action you can take if your application is denied. After receiving the decision from your SNAP office, you have 90 days to request a fair hearing. What this means is that a state official is required to review your application once more, fairly and objectively. You can submit this request either over the phone, online, or in person at your SNAP office. This takes a couple of extra steps, however, it may be worth it if the decision comes out differently. When you are in need of assistance, your best chance is to give it everything you got!

Bottom Line

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are used for different nutrition assistance programs provided by the government. They make it easy for recipients of these programs to access and spend their monthly funds. There are thousands of stores across the country that accept them as payment for qualifying grocery items.

One of the most well-known nutrition assistance programs that utilize EBT cards is SNAP. This federal program supports low-income households in getting access to the food that they need. Certain eligibility requirements need to be met in order to receive assistance with SNAP. These requirements vary depending on the state. Therefore, anyone that wants to benefit from this program can contact the SNAP office in their state for the best information.