What Is the EBT Cash Account?

EBT cards are used for food and cash benefits.

Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, is a system provided by various governmental agencies throughout the United States to provide food stamp and/or cash benefits to American citizens who use EBT cards, which are similar to debit cards. This system works in a slightly different manner from state to state, depending on the particulars of local law, but follows the same basic pattern wherever used. EBT goes by different names in different states. In Maryland, for instance, the EBT card is called the "Independence Card."


EBT Basics

EBT accounts provide individuals with benefits through the use of Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) technology. Two types EBT accounts exist, cash accounts and food accounts. Cash accounts provide recipients access to funds each month while food accounts make funds available on the card solely for the purchase of grocery items. EBT cards allow access to the funds in these accounts through ATMs or credit or debit card point-of-purchase machines.

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Not all stores that sell items permissible for purchase with EBT accounts allow customers to use EBT cards as a form of payment. All states provide food accounts through EBT with assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The nature of cash accounts varies by state.


How It Works

Once a month, a government agency places a predetermined sum of money into an EBT cash or food account. Individuals access this money via the EBT card, which resembles a credit card. Those receiving cash benefits may use any ATM to access the cash within the EBT cash account. Unlike a bank account, the user has no access to an EBT cash account other than the EBT card. The government agency funding any given EBT cash account controls that account and monitors it. Cash accounts provider greater elasticity than food accounts because they allow benefit recipients to withdraw cash. Food account funds can only be spent as debit on food items.


How To Get It

Governments award EBT cards and associated cash or food accounts through various agencies. In Connecticut, the Department of Social Services handles EBT applications and services. In Nevada, the Division of Welfare and Support Services does the same, while in Maryland an independent branch of the Department of Human Resources administers EBT accounts. To apply for benefits via EBT in your state, contact the appropriate local authority. Public servants like police officers and social workers can help you find the information you need regarding EBT cash accounts.


More on EBT

EBT accounts arose to make benefits more easily accessible to recipients, facilitate purchase and combat the stigma associated with traditional food stamps and other benefits. Unlike food stamps, EBT cards provide vendors with payment within 48 hours.

The federal government provides funding to states for EBT food benefits and, in some cases, cash accounts. Each state negotiates a separate contract with the government for EBT funding based on the extent of a state's social programs and the funding available for such programs at the state and federal levels.