Become an EBT Retailer

Becoming an electric benefits transfer (EBT) retailer can boost your business and open up a whole new segment of customers. When you apply to accept EBT, you also stand out from competitors who may not offer the same benefits. However, many companies aren’t sure how to start accepting SNAP benefits or become an EBT retailer. Read this EBT retailer manual to learn everything you need to know about EBT and SNAP to start benefiting.

SNAP Benefits and EBT

When individuals previously used SNAP benefits, they used paper coupons every time they shopped. Now, most states use a plastic EBT card that works like a debit card. An EBT card usually includes SNAP benefits, as well as cash benefits such as unemployment and housing assistance. Every time someone uses an EBT card for food, the amount they spend is automatically subtracted from their EBT account and added to your bank account. You should see the money deposited into your account within two business days. This benefits your store and also provides a more discreet payment option for those using SNAP benefits.

All You Need to Know About Becoming an EBT Retailer

The Difference Between EBT and SNAP

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal nutrition program that helps eligible individuals stretch their food budgets and purchase healthy food. The program used to be called food stamps. SNAP benefits are used to buy food at grocery stores, convenience stores and some farmers’ markets and co-op programs. Since SNAP is a federal entitlement program overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), anyone deemed eligible can receive benefits. It is not a cash assistance program, and individuals don’t take away benefits from others who apply. EBT is the format in which the government gives out SNAP benefits. Every month, individuals eligible for SNAP get a plastic card called an EBT that looks like a debit card. SNAP benefits come already loaded on the card, so people can simply visit an EBT retailer and use the card to purchase food through the SNAP program.

What Are the Benefits of EBT and SNAP?

 

There are benefits of EBT and SNAP for both consumers and businesses. Consumers using SNAP benefits won’t go hungry every month, and they can supplement their monthly food budgets with the benefits. They can also purchase higher quality, healthy food that may have been too expensive to afford before receiving benefits.

Your business also benefits as an EBT retailer. Accepting EBT can increase your customer base, allowing you to reach a wider range of consumers. You’ll also improve your cash flow and reduce the amount of wait time in checkout lines. As word spreads that you accept SNAP benefits through an EBT card, you’ll notice profits rise.

All You Need to Know About Becoming an EBT Retailer

If you have questions about how to become an EBT retailer, check out our Q&A section below and contact us online today to talk to a small business EBT specialist for more information.

Need help applying? Call us at 888-902-6202 or fill out the form below.

How can I accept SNAP food stamps in my store?

To accept SNAP food stamps in your store, you must get a SNAP permit. To get a permit, you must file an application with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The FNS is the government agency in charge of SNAP food stamps. The SNAP permit is free. You must have a permit for each store you own, and the permit must be in your name. You cannot take over someone else’s SNAP permit. You must sell certain types of food in your store to get a permit:

  • You can get a permit if you sell a variety of staple foods in each of four food categories: (1) dairy products (2) breads, grains, and cereals (3) fruits and vegetables and (4) meat, fish, and poultry. Foods can be fresh, frozen, or canned. However, you must stock perishable foods in at least two of the food categories.
  • or, you can get a permit if more than 50% of your gross retail sales comes from the sale of one or more staple foods.
  • For more Information on store eligibility click here.

Note: Staple foods do not include coffee, tea, candy, soft drinks, snack foods, or certain other ready-to-eat items.

Can farm stands, farmers' markets, and CSAs accept SNAP food stamps?

Farm stands, farmers’ markets, and CSAs (Consumer Supported Agriculture) can become authorized SNAP vendors:

  • Farm stands apply as individual retailers.
  • Farmers’ markets usually apply for a single central SNAP retailer license that can be used by all individual vendors at the market. (Individual vendors can also apply on their own.) Farmers’ markets with a central license can use tokens, paper scrip, or a receipt system to allow SNAP customers to buy food from individual vendors in exchange for a single SNAP/EBT payment.
  • CSAs apply as individual retailers, but cannot charge SNAP customers up front for CSA shares in the same way as they charge non-SNAP customers.
    • For-profit CSAs must give SNAP customers their farm share products when they pay
    • Non-profit CSAs can collect EBT/SNAP payments up to 14 days before SNAP customers get their farm share products
  • Farm stands, farmers’ markets, and CSAs that have electricity and a phone line can use an EBT-only machine supplied by the FNS, or a standard debit and credit card machine connected to the EBT system. Manual vouchers are another option. See How do I use EBT? (below) for details.

For more information, see Becoming an Authorized SNAP Retailer – Guide for Farm Stands and CSAs from CISA.

What rules do I have to follow?

Your FNS office will explain the rules you must follow for the SNAP Food Stamp Program. They will also explain the penalties for not following the rules. Some of the most important rules are:

  • You can only accept SNAP food stamps for eligible food items.
  • You cannot charge sales tax on any items bought with SNAP food stamps.
  • You cannot accept SNAP food stamps as payment on credit accounts. Your food stamp customers must pay for their purchases at the time of sale. You cannot give them credit and let them pay you back with SNAP food stamps at a later date.
  • You cannot give cash in exchange for SNAP food stamps.
  • You cannot give cash change for SNAP purchases. The amount charged to the customer’s EBT account must be the exact amount of the food purchase.
  • You cannot give cash refunds for food bought with SNAP food stamps. Refunds must go to the customer’s EBT account.
  • You cannot process a SNAP purchase unless the customer has the EBT card and PIN.
  • You must treat SNAP food stamp customers and other customers the same. For example, you cannot have a special line for SNAP food stamp customers, or charge them higher prices, or require a minimum purchase. If you accept coupons from other customers, you must accept coupons from SNAP customers.

You must follow all of the SNAP Food Stamp Program rules and regulations. If you do not follow the rules, you can lose your permit. You may also have to pay a fine. You or your customers can report SNAP food stamp fraud or abuse if someone isn’t following the rules. The SNAP Fraud Hotline is 1-800-424-9121.

Useful links

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How do I apply for a permit?

To apply for a SNAP permit, you must file an application with the Food and Nutrition Service. How to get an application: To get an application from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):

  • Use the FNS online form: Online Store Application
  • Need assistance or have questions, talk to an EBT Specialist at 888-902-6202

Documents you must include:

You must include copies of several documents with your application. The FNS office may also call you for more information, or send someone to visit your store. You should include:

  • a copy of a current license for your business (for example, a sales tax permit or health permit)
  • a copy of your driver’s license (front and back), passport, or other photo identification
  • a copy of the Social Security cards for all business owners, partners, officers, and shareholders, and their spouses

How to file the application:

  • If you use the online application, you can submit the application and check the status of your application online here. After you submit the online application, you must send copies of your documents to the FNS address on the form.
  • If you use a paper application, sign the application and send it with copies of your documents to the address on the form.

There is no charge for a food stamp permit. If you have any questions, call us at 888-902-6202. The FNS office has 45 days to either approve or deny your application. If your application is not complete, it may take longer. If your application is denied because your store does not meet the eligibility requirements, you must wait six months before you can apply again. You are not allowed to accept SNAP food stamps at your store until you have been approved. To apply for a SNAP permit, you must file an application with the Food and Nutrition Service.  

What foods can customers buy with SNAP food stamps?

  • Customers can use SNAP food stamps to buy any food item except food that is hot when sold, or food that is sold to be eaten in the store like restaurant food. Eligible food items include:
    • any food products or ingredients used to prepare meals at home
    • cold prepared sandwiches, salads, and other deli items
    • ethnic and health foods
    • snack foods, candy, soda, and ice
  • Customers can use SNAP food stamps to buy seeds or plants that they will grow to produce food for their household.
  • Customers cannot use SNAP food stamps to buy non-food items like alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, vitamins or medicines, pet foods, soap, cosmetics, laundry products, paper goods, or other household products.

For more details about eligible food items, including additional information about “junk” food, luxury items, energy drinks, and holiday food items, see Eligible Food Items on the USDA web site.  

How do I use EBT?

All SNAP food stamps now come on EBT cards. EBT cards work like other debit cards. When SNAP food stamps customers pay for their food, the amount of the sale is automatically subtracted from their EBT account and credited to your store’s bank account. The money is deposited in your account within two business days. To accept SNAP EBT payments electronically, you must have equipment that can process EBT transactions. If you already have equipment to handle credit and debit card purchases, you can use the same equipment to handle EBT cards. Your FNS office will help you connect your equipment to the state EBT system. If you do not have equipment to handle credit and debit cards, your FNS office will give you free equipment to handle EBT cards if your EBT sales are at least $100 per month. You must have electricity and a phone line to use the EBT machine. You also have the option of using manual vouchers if your location does not have electricity and a phone line, or if you have very few SNAP customers. Manual vouchers are also used as a backup system if an EBT card or an EBT system is not working. For more information click here.

What is Pandemic EBT?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides the Secretary of Agriculture authority to approve state plans for temporary emergency standards of eligibility and levels of benefits under the Food and Nutrition Act. Children who would receive free or

reduced priced meals under the National School Lunch Act if not for the school closure are eligible under this provision. State agencies may submit plans in any case in which a school is closed for at least 5 consecutive days during a public health emergency designation during which the school would otherwise be in operation.

Click here to see how your state is handling the Pandemic EBT Program. (https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-guidance-coronavirus-pandemic-ebt-pebt)

Last updated: August 17, 2020
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