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Using EBT Cards for Your Food Stamps Benefits

Formerly known as the food stamps program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps low-income individuals and families to be able to afford their food costs each month by providing financial assistance specifically for grocery purchases. The New York SNAP program follows all federal guidelines to ensure program integrity and accessibility. Eligibility for the program is strictly determined and recipients of SNAP benefits must adhere to specific work requirements as applicable.

Once a SNAP applicant is deemed eligible to receive benefits, he or she will receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to use as payment at qualified retailers. The EBT card system has officially replaced the former food stamps program paper vouchers. This electronic system helps both recipients and the government to better track and transfer funds as necessary. In New York, the EBT card is also sometimes called a Common Benefit Identification Card (CBIC). Food stamps benefits can only be used for very specific food items and only at grocery stores or other retailers that accept the EBT payments.

EBT cards make using your food stamp benefits easier and more convenient, plus they reduce the occurrence of fraud within the program. Find out how an EBT card works and why it is beneficial for those who receive food stamps benefits below.

New York Food Stamps Program

Eligibility for the SNAP program is determined by household size and total income, among other important factors. If you are eligible to receive food stamps, you will have to submit an application to the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) under the Department of Social Services (DSS) with any and all supporting documentation to prove your qualifications. Once your application is reviewed and you are deemed eligible to receive SNAP benefits, you will receive your EBT card with your initial benefits payment.

Note that you can only buy certain items with your EBT card, and you are prohibited from using your EBT card to purchase certain items, including the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Hot foods or foods to be eaten on-site
  • Non-food items, including household supplies, pet food, medicines or paper products

You also cannot get cash back from your SNAP program EBT card or use your EBT card at an ATM for cash. Your card can only be used at qualifying retailers to purchase qualifying food items. Recipients of different food assistance benefits programs might be able to use their cards for cash, but SNAP is strictly for the purchase of food items.

How an EBT Card Works

An EBT card works just like a debit card, allowing a food stamps recipient the chance to receive funds electronically and immediately and to also make purchases immediately. While food stamps used to be provided via a paper voucher system, the EBT card allows for immediate transfers of funds from the SNAP program to the recipients for immediate use without the risk of lost or stolen vouchers.

When you receive your new EBT card with your SNAP benefits ready to use, you can create a new Personal Identification Number (PIN) that will be easy for you to remember, but hard for anyone else to guess. Nobody else should ever use your EBT card or PIN. You can always change your PIN at your local DSS office, at a local Job Center or at SNAP centers near you. You can also call DSS at any time to change your PIN. If you cannot remember your PIN, you can also call to change it by answering a few security questions to confirm your identity. If you enter your PIN incorrectly too many times in a row, your card will be blocked from use until the next day, even if you change the PIN.

Where and How to Use an EBT Card

Most grocery stores will accept your EBT card as payment, but you should always confirm before you begin shopping. If you see a Quest logo at the retailer, then EBT cards are accepted. Even if you do not see a logo, you can ask a store employee or manager to ensure your payment will be valid before you reach the register.

When you are ready to make a purchase at a qualified retailer, you will swipe your card or present it to the cashier. If your card does not swipe, in which case you must report your card as damaged to get a replacement. You will then need to enter your PIN according to the instructions on the payment terminal machine. Make sure the final amount you authorize on the terminal matches the total amount the cashier has indicated, and then confirm with the receipt you receive. You should keep every receipt you receive because your new balance will be indicated at the bottom. Make sure you know your current balance before making another purchase. Always keep your most recent receipt on hand for that purpose.

If you do not have your latest receipt, you can check your current balance online or by calling your local DSS office for assistance. In addition to checking your balance online, you can also do the following using the same OTDA portal services:

  • View your transaction history
  • Change your PIN
  • Report a lost or damaged EBT card
Benefits of Using an EBT Card

The EBT card system has helped users of food stamp benefits as much as it has helped the government agencies administering and monitoring benefits. By making the transfer of SNAP funds electronic, fraud has been greatly reduced throughout the program. Where paper vouchers or coupons were once able to be lost, stolen or sold very easily, the electronic system makes using food stamps for anything other than their intended use much more difficult. Recipients are better protected and the government is better able to track all payments made and received throughout the program.

The EBT system has been used in all 50 states since 2004, helping the food stamps program, and later the SNAP program, to more quickly and accurately transfer benefits to qualified recipients.