Millions of people across the US qualify for food and cash assistance from the government. If you qualify for the programs, you’ll be issued an EBT card. If you’re new to the program, then you might not know how to use the card. Learn more about EBT benefits, how to check the amount on your EBT card and how to use your card in the store to purchase the items you need.
What Is EBT?
Electronic benefits transfer (EBT) programs are government programs that provide funds to qualifying individuals and families to pay for necessities, such as food, clothing or utilities. The funds are distributed to people electronically, and they can access the benefits using a government-issued debit card. Merchants accept benefits using a card terminal the same way they accept debit cards.
What Are the Types of EBT Benefits?
There are two main EBT benefits programs: SNAP and TANF. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was previously known as the Food Stamp Program. This program provides funds that can only be used to purchase qualifying foods. The Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash benefits to low income families and refugees. This program isn’t as restrictive as SNAP in terms of how funds can be spent.
How to Check EBT Account Balance
There are multiple ways to check your EBT account balance. The easiest is to call the toll-free number on the back of the card. The automated recording will prompt you to enter the account number and PIN, then relays the account balance to you. Each state is in charge of its own benefits programs, but they often each have a secure website set up to view your account balance.
If you have a smartphone, download the Fresh EBT app. It’s a free app available on Google Play and the App Store that allows you to check your SNAP and TANF benefits balances. It also helps you locate stores that accept your card.
Limitations of EBT
Before using your EBT card, it’s important to understand how to use it and what you can purchase with the funds. When shopping with your SNAP benefits, keep in mind that the following items are not eligible:
Prepared or hot foods Alcohol and tobacco products Paper goods Personal care items, such as soap and deodorant Pet food Medicine and vitamins
TANF programs are run by each state, so restrictions vary. In general, recipients can spend the cash benefits any way they choose. Alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets are among the most commonly restricted items, but they’re not prohibited in all states.
Using EBT at an ATM
If you receive cash benefits through TANF, then you can withdraw cash from participating ATMs — just look for the Quest logo. Insert your card into the ATM and enter your secret PIN. Check your account balance or select the amount of cash to withdraw. Be sure to retrieve your card when you’re done with the transaction. Check the rules and restrictions with your state. Some charge a fee for withdrawing cash and some allow a certain number of free withdrawals.
Using EBT at the Store
Using your EBT card at the store is the same as using a debit card. Before attempting to use the card, make sure that you’re in one of the stores that accept EBT. These stores often have a sign on the front door or window, but you can ask for assistance also. When the cashier finishes ringing up your items, swipe or insert your card into the terminal. Enter your PIN to complete the transaction. If you purchased items that are not eligible, you’ll need to provide additional payment.