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How does the EBT card system work?

An Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card is used to transfer entitlement payments, like food stamps, welfare and child care to the recipient. This system works using a card that looks very similar to a debit or credit card, but it can only be used for a certain things.

Getting the card

In order to receive an EBT card, you will first need to apply for financial assistance benefits that use the card. Types of benefits that use the card are food stamps, childcare assistance and cash benefits. Depending on the state you live in, you can apply online or in-person at your local welfare office. Once you apply, you will be called in for an interview. This is when you can show proof of your income and citizenship status with pay stubs, tax statements, birth certificates and social security cards. You will need to show income, if any, and a birth certificate and/or social security card for everyone who lives in your home. Anyone who lives in your home will have their income, both earned and unearned, counted even if they are not applying for benefits. Upon approval, you will be able to pick your card up at the welfare office. Approval can take up to 30 days from the application date. They will help you set up your four-digit PIN code, which you will pick.

Using the card

As soon as you pick up your card, the benefits in your EBT account will be available. For people with food or cash assistance, this means that you can use the card immediately to purchase items. When purchasing items from the store, simply swipe your card at the card reader, just as you would a debit or credit card. You will need to make a selection of "EBT," choose between "Food" and "Cash," and then put in your four-digit PIN number. If you are using both food and cash, then you will need to make two transactions, paying for both separately. If you have cash benefits, then you can also get money out of an ATM. To use your childcare benefits, you will go online and directly transfer the money off your EBT card to your provider's bank account.

Checking your balance

You can look up your EBT account information online or receive the information by phone. The phone number and the URL of the website where you can get this information will be displayed on the back of your EBT card. When you get to the website, you will be asked for your EBT account number and your four-digit PIN to access your account.

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