How Food Stamps Work

Using Food Stamps

Once your application for SNAP has been approved, the next step is to receive your benefits on your electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, which recently replaced the printed food stamp. This should happen within 30 days of the date you filed your application, or within seven days if you qualify for expedited benefits. EBT cards are loaded electronically on a monthly basis. The day on which your benefits will be transferred to your EBT card will be anytime between the 1st and 10th day of each month, depending on the first letter of your last name [source: U.S. Department of Agriculture].

Keep in mind that there are certain categories of foods that you can buy with SNAP benefits, including:

  • Breads and cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meats, fish and poultry
  • Dairy products

SNAP recipients may use their benefits to purchase plants and seeds for growing food. They're also eligible to attend SNAP-Ed classes to learn about cooking, nutrition and how to stretch food dollars.

There are also certain grocery items that you can't purchase with SNAP benefits, such as:

  • Tobacco products
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Vitamins and medicines
  • Non-food items such as paper products and soaps
  • Hot foods or foods that you'd probably eat in the store

When you go through the checkout line, you'll need to swipe your EBT card and put in your personal identification number (PIN). You can set up your PIN at your local SNAP office or by using the toll-free SNAP customer service line at (800) 997-2555. Also, keep in mind that most grocery store receipts will show the balance remaining on your EBT card. This is just one of the many improvements made to SNAP since 2008.

Read on to learn about other aspects of the program and the new face of SNAP recipients.