Social Security For Dummies
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The federal Food Stamp Program is now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and instead of issuing paper food stamp coupons, SNAP recipients get an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card to use in participating stores. When paying for groceries, you just swipe the EBT card in the same card reader that's used for credit and debit cards, put in your PIN number, and that's it!

Whether you call it food stamps, a SNAP card, or the EBT card, here are some pointers to remember for using it:

  • At the end of your purchase transaction, you should be able to see how much money is left in your account.

  • You can't debit a higher amount than the cash register total and get cash back.

  • Most participating stores indicate that they are SNAP members by displaying a sign in their window, but if you're not sure, ask the service counter or one of the cashiers. (The sign might say something like "We Accept Food Stamps, EBT, or SNAP Benefits.")

  • You can buy most types of edible items in categories that you'd find in a supermarket: dairy, meats, produce, and so on. (Seeds that will be used to grow edible foods are also eligible.)

    Items that you can't buy with food stamps include:
    • Alcoholic beverages and cigarettes

    • Vitamins and medicines

    • Any food that will be eaten in the store

    • Any hot food

    • Non-edible items like laundry supplies, paper products, and pet foods

  • Your EBT card is good in all 50 states, even though you may have enrolled in one particular state. (The card doesn't work in Puerto Rico but does in the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)

  • Any food stamp benefits that you don't use in one month will be carried over to the next month. However, if you don't use your SNAP card for a year, you will no longer be entitled to receive benefits.

While SNAP is a federal program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eligibility is handled by each state — and each state has its own set of rules. To find out if you're eligible for SNAP benefits, contact your local SNAP office.

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