How to accept food stamps at my store

Many people want to eat healthy, but can’t afford to. Sadly, grocery stores and supermarkets can’t give away products for free. But there’s an option that ensures everybody is happy — Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT).

EBT cards are the new food stamps. They allow you to access funds that the federal government of the USA gives you when you register for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Each time you use your card to buy eligible grocery items, the money will go to the store. 

As a grocery store owner, accepting EBT expands your customer base and improves your relationship with them. When customers see that you offer different payment methods and they can use their EBT cards buy things they can’t typically afford, your store becomes the go-to place for their survival needs. 

If you want to accept food stamps at your grocery store, you will find the process for doing so in this post.

Become eligible for accepting food stamps at your grocery store

Before you apply for the authorization to accept SNAP EBT at your grocery store, you must meet two major criteria — Criterion A and Criterion B.

Criterion A

Your grocery store must sell staple foods in the following categories:

  • Vegetables or fruits.
  • Dairy products.
  • Meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Breads or cereals.

Staple foods are raw and unprocessed foodstuffs that you cook and eat regularly at home, and they make up a large proportion of your diet. For example, rice, cassava, wheat, and maize. For each staple food category, your grocery store must have three stocking units (e.g., dozens, kilograms, or cases) of three different food varieties (e.g., cassava, wheat, yams). 

You must also have three stocking units of one perishable food item in at least two staple food categories. Perishable food items are meals that are prone to spoilage or will decay faster if you don’t refrigerate them. For example, meat and fish. 

Note that: Staple foods that you already prepared or pre-heated at the grocery store don't count. They are only eligible for SNAP EBT purchase in their raw forms. Accessory foods such as coffee, carbonated drinks, candy, and condiments are also not eligible for SNAP EBT purchase. Accessory foods are meals that complement main dishes or act as snacks or desserts.

Criterion B

More than 50% of the total sales of your grocery store must come from staple foods. To calculate how much that is, use the formula below:

Total sales Non-food sales prepared or heated foods Accessory foods = staple food sales.

Non-food sales represent any product that isn’t edible or does not contain vitamins, minerals, or protein that are beneficial to your health. For example, alcohol and tobacco-based products, lottery tickets, gas, and others.

Exceptions for when you can’t meet the SNAP EBT criteria

If your store doesn’t meet the criteria we mentioned above, you can still become eligible to accept EBT under the following conditions.

  • Your store must reside in a location where SNAP participants have limited access to food.
  • You own a restaurant, or have one within your grocery store, that resides in states in the USA where the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) is recognized. This program allows SNAP participants to buy prepared, pre-heated or accessory foods if they are incapable of making the meals for themselves. For example, they are homeless or have a disability. 
  • You have multiple grocery stores in the same location. If each store meets different criteria, or at least a fraction of a criterion, the SNAP will regard them all as one grocery store and deem you eligible to accept EBT.

How to apply for accepting food stamps at your grocery store

The steps we mention in this section are meant for retail food stores. If you don’t operate one, then they’re not for you. Instead, contact the SNAP Retailer Service Center for information on how to apply. 

Additionally, you will need to make a second application if you want to accept EBT on your e-commerce channels like your website or mobile application. Read the guidelines and requirements for accepting EBT online to know if you’re eligible.

Video guide: Application process for accepting food stamps at grocery stores.

1. Register and activate your USDA eAuthentication account

Creating an eAuthentication account on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website is compulsory. You will need the details of the eAuthentication account to start your SNAP EBT application.

To create your eAuthentication account, visit the eAuthentication web page from your browser. Choose the Customer option, then tap Continue.

USDA eAuthentication web page

Enter your email address and tap Submit. The website will send a confirmation email to your inbox. Locate the email and use the provided link or instructions to continue your registration.

Afterwards, you need to provide key information like your name, and create a password. The website will then send you a confirmation email for your reference.

2. Start your SNAP application

Visit the SNAP Application status web page and tap the Sign in button. You will need to login with your eAuthentication account email and password if you use a different device to access the page. If you use the same device you created your eAuthentication account with, the website will automatically sign you in.

USDA Application status web page

Next, select Start New Application. Choose your application type from the provided options. For grocery stores, select Store.

Review information displayed on the next page carefully. It contains the necessary documents you need to provide, and the next steps to take after you complete your application. You will find instructions for submitting documents at the end of the application process.

Click on Start Application to begin the process. You have 30 days to complete your application. When the period elapses, the website will erase your application details permanently. 


3. Check the status of your application 

Revisit the Application status web page and click on the Sign in button. Then click Check Status Of Previously Submitted Application to monitor whether your application is approved or not.

Check Status of Previously Submitted Application option on USDA website

What happens when you’re approved to accept food stamps at your grocery store

While you’re waiting for approval, a SNAP representative will visit your store to check that you meet the criteria. They may take photos or make sketches of your store, which is normal. Doing that will help them get the information they need to make a decision on whether to approve or disqualify your store from accepting EBT.

After approval, you will receive a SNAP permit. The permit shows that you’re authorized to accept EBT at your store and contains a unique PIN that identifies you as the owner of that store. But before you receive this permit, you’re not allowed to start accepting EBT even though the website shows that you have been approved. 

Additionally, there are scenarios where you would have to apply for a new permit:

  • When you own a grocery store chain. You will have to get a separate permit for each store. 
  • When you change your store’s location. 
  • When you sell your grocery store chain to another person. The new owner has to apply for a new permit.

After receiving your permit, your focus should be on fulfilling the SNAP training expectations for employees. Doing that ensures that your staff are equipped with the knowledge and resources to handle EBT transactions properly. They should know what items are eligible for purchase with EBT cards, and what items are off limits. For example, alcohol is prohibited in most states and is not a SNAP-eligible item.

You could get into trouble with the law if one employee gives cashback for their EBT card payment or trades their card for valuable store items. Such acts are illegal and are punishable by the law of the USA.


SNAP benefits have come a long way from the traditional method of exchanging paper slips for food. Not only did the slips cause social stigma to their holders, but they were at a higher risk of getting shredded, lost or stolen. Even worse — paper food stamps promoted fraud. They were easier to trade for illegal items since they weren’t built on trackable and verifiable technology.

But since EBT cards became mainstream in the 1990s, food stamp fraud has dropped from 4% to 1%. Now, customers have access to electronic cards that are much similar to bank cards and secure. Most grocery stores even accept EBT cards online, and shoppers can buy food from the comfort of their couch. 

With this technology in place, your grocery stores will receive food benefits payment faster. Even better — your cashiers won’t have to sort through large piles of paper coupons.