What is EBT?

How SNAP Works: The Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) System

Electronic benefits transfer (EBT) is the state agency's method by which SNAP benefits are distributed to families and individuals. EBT cards look just like a credit or debit card and work similarly, and help reduce the stigma of nutrition assistance by eliminating conspicuous food stamps. The majority of SNAP-recipients spend their SNAP benefits through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system. The system works as follows.

First, an individual or household applies to receive SNAP benefits (click here for list of state coordinators) .  If they meet the program’s criteria, the state issues their EBT card. At the beginning of each month, the state agency deposits the individual's SNAP benefit dollars into their SNAP account that is linked to their EBT card. The beneficiaries then use their EBT card like a debit card to spend up to their monthly amount on SNAP-eligible food items at SNAP-authorized retailers.

Note: SNAP EBT cards can be used at any eligible retailer in any state.  For example, an Oregon SNAP participant can use their EBT card at a SNAP eligible California farmers market.

To become authorized to accept SNAP benefits, eligible retailers (including farmers markets or direct-marketing farmers) apply to FNS, as described here.  If they meet the program’s criteria, they become an authorized retailer and may buy or rent point of service (POS) equipment that allows them to process EBT cards to accept SNAP benefits. For information on costs associated with being a SNAP-authorized retailer, click here. For a list of each state’s SNAP resources, click here.

To explore a range of considerations to weigh in deciding whether to pursue SNAP-authorization, click here.

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