How do I use SNAP benefits?

We are in the process of updating the SNAP Advocacy Guide, so some of the information is no longer current.  In the meantime, you can read or download a pdf of the 2022 guide from www.masslegalservices.org/FoodStampSNAPAdvocacyGuide

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2020

SNAP benefits are kept in an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) account for you to use at any grocery or convenience store that is a USDA-approved EBT vendor. 106 C.M.R. §§364.900, 364.910.

 

Getting an EBT card and PIN

Unless you apply in person, the EBT card is usually mailed to you. There are no benefits on your EBT card until your case is approved.

DTA should make sure you have an EBT card in hand by the day your case is approved – either by 7 days from the date of your application, if you are eligible for expedited SNAP, or by 30 days from the date of your application.

 

Important EBT card tips

You will get two envelopes – one with the EBT card and another with the PIN. DTA will automatically assign you a PIN. You can change your PIN any time by calling the Massachusetts EBT Customer Service number: 1-800-997-2555.

Choose a PIN that is easy for you to remember but hard for other people to guess. Never share or write your PIN on your card.

graphic of Quest mark

Look for the Quest mark on the door or window of the store, or a sign that says the store accepts EBT.

Before you shop, check how much SNAP benefits are in your account through DTA Connect, or call Massachusetts EBT Customer Service at 800-997-2555 for your balance.

At check-out, swipe your card and enter your secret PIN on the number pad and then press enter. The cashier should NOT look at your name or any photo on the card. The PIN is your signature. See What is a Photo EBT card and who needs to have one?

Tell the clerk how much SNAP you want to use to pay for your food, or enter the amount yourself. If there is not enough EBT on your card, the clerk should tell you how much additional cash you need to pay.

Always check your receipt to be sure that the amount on the EBT receipt is the same as the grocery receipt.

Your EBT card does not expire, even if your SNAP case closes because you are no longer eligible. You can still use any SNAP benefits left on your card after your case closes, and use the same card if you reapply in the future. See If I forget to use my EBT card, does my case close or will I lose benefits?.

If you reapply and don’t have your card any more or your card is defective (for example, the magnetic strip does not work), DTA should issue you a new EBT card. DTA should not charge you a card replacement fee if you have been off of SNAP benefits for over a year or you meet other fee exception rules. See What if I do not have an EBT card or my card is lost or stolen?

 

Where to get help with your EBT card

Call Massachusetts EBT customer service at 1-800-997-2555 when:

  • you have questions or problems using your card or secret PIN,
  • your EBT card is lost or stolen or does not work (report this right away and DTA will replace the card),
  • you want to find out your SNAP account balance, or
  • you want to find out where you can use your card.

There is no limit on the number of times per month you can use your EBT card to buy food as long as you have benefits on the card. There is no charge or fee when you use your EBT card to buy food. If you lose your EBT card, see What if I do not have an EBT card or my card is lost or stolen?.

 

Where to use your SNAP on your EBT card

You can use your SNAP to buy food at all stores that accept EBT including large and small grocery stories, convenience stores. See What is the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) at farmers markets?about the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) at farmers markets, CSAs and other locations. You do not need to have a stove or other cooking facilities to get SNAP benefits. You can also buy seeds and vegetable or fruit plants to grow your own food.

You cannot buy the following items with SNAP:

  • Hot prepared foods to be eaten on the store premises or immediately (such as rotisserie chickens) or restaurant food,
  • Non-food items such as pet food or vitamins, and
  • Paper goods, cleaning supplies, and similar items.

SNAP rules on food purchase restrictions: 106 C.M.R. §360.100.

 

Prepared meals

You are allowed to donate some of your SNAP benefit for prepared hot meals at certain locations including domestic violence and homeless shelters, congregate meal sites for elders or home-delivered meals for seniors. However, the agencies can only accept voluntary EBT donations and should not accept more than $2/meal. It also depends on whether the agency serving the meals is an approved EBT vendor (with equipment to accept SNAP). 106 C.M.R. §360.120.

 

Overcharges/mistakes by EBT grocers

Sometimes the store will make a mistake by overcharging your EBT account, even though you did not get all of your groceries. If this happens, the store must file a “merchant mis-dispense claim” with DTA. It may take several days or weeks for you to get your SNAP benefits credited back to your account.

You may be able to get your benefits back sooner if you can get the store to contact DTA directly to verify the mistake. Call the EBT Customer Service line for immediate help: 800-997-2555.

 

Advocacy Reminder

Even though you cannot use SNAP for vitamins or medications, you may be able to boost your SNAP by claiming these costs as a medical expense if you are a senior (60+) or person with disabilities. See What medical expenses can I claim if I am elderly or disabled?.

DTA Online Guide: SNAP > Application Processing > SNAP Application Processing > Issuing An EBT Card

Show DTA Policy Guidance

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