Key Takeaways

  • Once you’re approved for SNAP benefits, funds are transferred to you via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

  • Your EBT card can be used to purchase eligible food items at Walmart, grocery stores, and other retailers that accept SNAP.

  • You can also use your EBT card to withdraw cash from your SNAP benefits account using various methods.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal safety net program, helps individuals and families buy the food they need to be healthy. It can be a lifeline for older adults who struggle to put enough food on their table.

SNAP is a need-based program that you must apply to. Once you’re found eligible to receive benefits, funds are transferred to you via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

What is an EBT card?

An EBT card functions like a prepaid debit card and can be used to purchase eligible food items. It’s the only way to receive your SNAP benefits. Some important things to know about your EBT card:

  • Each month, your benefit amount is automatically deposited onto your card balance. As long as you have sufficient funds in your EBT card balance, you can use it to cover eligible grocery purchases.
  • Any member of your household or a caregiver can use your EBT card provided they know your secret PIN (Personal Identification Number). Your PIN helps keep your SNAP benefits secure and proves that your card belongs to you.
  • Some states require a photo EBT card for the head of certain households that receive SNAP benefits. However, retailers that accept EBT must let all household members use the photo EBT card.
  • Even though you enrolled in SNAP in your state of residence, your EBT card can be used in all 50 U.S. states.
  • Your SNAP benefits don't expire if you don't use them up in the same month you receive them. Instead, any remaining funds in your EBT account will be rolled over into the next month. However, if you don't use your benefits at all for a period of 9 months, they will be removed from your EBT account.
  • Even if you lose SNAP eligibility, you can still use any SNAP funds left on your card after your case closes.

Just like a debit or credit card, you should store your EBT card in a safe place that’s easily accessible to you, like your wallet.

Where can I use my EBT Card?

Your EBT card can be used to purchase eligible food at Walmart, most grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retail stores that accept SNAP. Many farmer’s markets throughout America also participate in SNAP.

What can I buy with EBT?

Food items eligible for purchase with your EBT card include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Breads and cereals
  • Dairy products
  • Snack foods
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • Seeds and plants to grow food for your household

There are straightforward rules about what you can’t purchase with your EBT card. SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy:

  • Alcohol and tobacco products (e.g., beer, cigarettes)
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Other nonfood items (e.g., pet food, paper goods, cleaning supplies)
  • Prepared hot food (e.g., rotisserie chicken)

How do I use an EBT Card?

Here’s how to use your EBT card at the store:

1. Check your balance beforehand to see how much money you have left in your EBT balance. You can do this by:

  • Looking at your most recent grocery store receipt.
  • Checking your online SNAP account if you have one.
  • Calling the EBT customer service number for your state.
  • Calling the toll-free number on the back of your EBT card.

2. Go to the checkout lane with your groceries. In some stores, the register will automatically separate out SNAP-eligible items, requiring only one transaction. However, in smaller stores, you or the cashier may have to separate the items by hand. This may require two transactions.

3. Swipe your EBT card through the point-of-sale (POS) terminal. Type in your secret PIN number on the number pad—the screen will show * * * instead of numbers to keep your PIN private. Then press the "ENTER" key.

4. Tell the cashier how much SNAP funds you want to use to pay for your food (or enter the amount yourself). They will enter the amount of your SNAP purchase. If the amount is correct, press the "OK" or "YES" key. If there are not enough funds on your EBT card, the cashier should tell you how much more you'll need to pay in cash.

5. You will get a printed receipt for each transaction. Be sure to keep this receipt so that you can check your balance before you shop again. 

In many states, larger retailers like Walmart also allow you to use your EBT card online to pay for grocery pickup and delivery orders.

What if I experience EBT discrimination?

When shopping with your EBT card, you have the right to be treated like any other customer. Unfortunately, sometimes EBT card discrimination happens.

Don’t take it lying down. If you feel you've been treated differently by a cashier, manager, or other shoppers while using your EBT card at a store, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Are you eligible for SNAP assistance? It’s worth finding out

A great example of SNAP at work is Ms. P., age 61. Ms. P. is the caregiver for her 86-year old mother. They live on a very limited income and can barely afford to pay for their medication and other monthly expenses. After applying for SNAP, Ms. P. and her mother were awarded $211 in monthly benefits.

I am very grateful for the additional benefits to purchase nutritious food for both me and my mother," Ms. P told NCOA.

Many older adults who qualify for SNAP assistance don’t take advantage of these benefits. You don’t want to miss out on valuable financial support that can help you eat better and improve your quality of life.

NCOA offers an easy-to-use screening tool that can tell you if you qualify before you fill out a SNAP application. Go to  BenefitsCheckUp.org/GetSNAP and select your state of residence. If you qualify for SNAP benefits, we’ll also give you all the information you need to apply. We can even connect you with someone who can help you navigate the application process.