The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the largest federal low-income household nutrition program in the United States. Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards are debit cards used to electronically transfer SNAP benefits at the point-of-sale terminal. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service licenses and manages the SNAP program. As a result, to begin accepting EBT at your business, you must get a Food Stamps Program Permit and license number from FNS for each of your store locations. Once you have your permit(s), set up EBT processing via a state EBT contractor or commercial merchant services representative.
Go to the online USDA Newsroom — FNS Field Office Contacts page, select your state on the map, or text link below the map, and locate your closest FNS field office.
Contact the office in person or by phone. Advise the FNS representative that you would like to accept EBT at your business and provide the representative with any information requested. Follow the instructions given by the representative to get a Food Stamps Program Permit and a seven-digit FNS number.
Refer to a state EBT contractor as directed by FNS, your current merchant services representative, or a merchant services company of your choice to discuss the various methods of accepting EBT. Most merchants can choose from one of the following: state-provided POS equipment; a current POS system, if applicable; or a new commercial system set up to accept EBT and credit, debit, gift cards or checks. Some merchants must process EBT via paper vouchers instead of a POS system.
Choose a system, set it up, learn the correct way to process EBT from your representative and then begin accepting EBT at the point-of-sale. For example, if you decide to add EBT to existing merchant equipment, your commercial merchant services representative will program your POS system with the FNS number so you can begin accepting EBT as a swipe-able transaction in which the customer inputs a 4-digit PIN at the point-of-sale.
Many states issue WIC benefit and cash benefit for assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), state General Assistance, Blind Pension and Refugee Cash Assistance via SNAP EBT cards. Each state has its own rules about which businesses may process EBT cash assistance benefit transactions. If you want to process WIC or cash benefit transactions, advise the FNS representative when you call FNS to get apply for a permit.
Your store will need to meet certain criteria to accept SNAP EBT food stamp transactions. Although these criteria may change at any time, typically your store must offer at least three types of foods that qualify as staple foods or 50 percent of your store's total gross sales must come from staple foods. Staple food categories are bread/cereals, fish, meat and poultry, vegetables and fruits and dairy.
You must have a permit for every store where you want to accept EBT. In addition, if you transfer ownership of a store, move its location or close it, you or the new owner must get a new permit.
Always check with your representative to determine the cost of processing EBT at your business.
As of August 2011, state-provided equipment has no charge associated with it if your monthly average SNAP transactions is $100 or more. If you plan to use, or currently use, a commercial system, you will likely experience costs associated with buying or leasing equipment, unless you currently own a compatible system, and pay fees related to your merchant services company handling EBT transactions.
Based in Southern Pennsylvania, Irene A. Blake has been writing on a wide range of topics for over a decade. Her work has appeared in projects by The National Network for Artist Placement, the-phone-book Limited and GateHouse Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University.