Just about everyone has struggled to pay the bills at some time or another. Often, the first bill to get cut down when money is tight is the food bill. We might begin to skimp on groceries, missing out on crucial nutrition.
So, what is EBT? How do you use it, and what can you buy?
Let’s find out.
Table of Contents:
What Is EBT?
EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer and is an electronic account and payment method used to receive and use all electronic benefits.
EBT is most commonly used to receive SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP benefits are the new way of receiving and using food stamps. Instead of using paper coupons, all transactions are now done electronically.
To use your EBT money, you’ll swipe a plastic payment card at the checkout and enter a PIN, just like you would with a regular payment card. You can’t use your EBT card to withdraw cash, either at the checkout or at an ATM.
Using your benefits solely for electronic transactions reduces the possibility of benefits fraud (such as selling your card, using your card to withdraw cash, and so on), or of accidentally buying unapproved items.
As we’ll discuss next, EBT doesn’t cover all household supplies.
What Can You Buy With EBT?
EBT users have a lot of freedom when it comes to spending their benefits. The criteria for acceptable EBT purchases is that the items should be food groceries, designed to prepare and eat at home. Apart from that, there are no regulations on price, brand, or type of food you can buy.
Here’s what you can buy with EBT:
- Fruit and vegetables (frozen, canned, or fresh)
- Meat, poultry, fish, and seafood
- Dairy and dairy substitutes (milk, cheese, coconut, soy, and almond milk, etc)
- Non-alcoholic beverages (soda, juice, bottled water, etc)
- Bread, grains, and cereals
- Baking ingredients (sugar, flour, etc)
- Baby food
- Non-alcoholic beverages (bottled water, juice, soda, etc)
- Snack foods (chips, candy, ice cream, etc)
You can’t overspend on your EBT card. Once your benefits have run out, you won’t be able to make any more purchases. Any benefits left over at the end of the month will roll on to the next month, so it is possible to save some of your benefits each month.
What Can’t You Buy With EBT?
EBT and SNAP only cover food and drink items. This means that non-food items – even essential ones – aren’t covered by your benefits.
Here’s what you can’t buy with EBT:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco products
- Lottery tickets/gambling
- Medicines, vitamins, and supplements (some energy drinks are classed as supplements)
- Pet food
- Personal items (electronics, cosmetics, furniture, clothes, etc)
- Household supplies (paper goods, cleaning products)
- Hot, preprepared food (hot coffee, rotisserie chickens, restaurant food – although this may vary depending on your circumstances)
- Hygiene and grooming items (sanitary pads, tampons, soap, shampoo, etc)
To buy essential non-food grocery items, you’ll need to use your own money. Many supermarkets allow shoppers to make multiple payments on one load of shopping, making this process a little easier.
While it’s easy to accidentally try and buy unapproved items, continually buying – or trying to buy – non-food items could lead to your benefits being suspended. If you are able to use your EBT card to buy non-food items, you’ll have to pay back that money.
How to Check Your EBT Balance In Maine
The easiest way to check your EBT balance is to review your last receipt, which should list your closing account balance.
However, many EBT users prefer to log onto their online accounts. This allows you to view your balance and more information. Here’s how to do that:
- Step One: Start by visiting this site. To access the login box for an EBT user, click “cardholder login” at the far left of the screen.
- Step Two: Next, you’ll be provided with a login box. You’ll be prompted to enter your user ID and password. Then, you can log in to your account and view your balance.
- Step Three: If you’re having difficulty signing in, click the “trouble signing in” option below the login box. You’ll be taken to another screen where you can select your particular issue. For example, if this is your first time logging into your EBT online account, you’ll need to unlock your user ID, so be sure to choose this option. If you’ve forgotten your password or user ID, click the given option and follow the instructions given onscreen.
If you’re still having problems logging into your online account, click the red “trouble signing in FAQs” option at the bottom of the page. This will open a downloadable pamphlet that discusses how to use your online account and some frequently asked questions.
Frequently Asked EBT Questions
Many new EBT users have lots of questions. Let’s briefly discuss a few commonly asked questions from EBT users in Maine.
- Can I use my EBT card online in Maine?
Yes, you can. EBT is a nationwide program, and you can use your EBT card at participating stores in all 50 states.
P-EBT (Pandemic EBT) was a one-off payment for eligible children. The purpose of P-EBT was to replace the reduced price or free school dinners that some children would have received. Due to school closures, these meals were no longer available, so P-EBT was given out to supplement the household’s nutritional needs.
The Bottom Line
Millions of American households in all 50 states benefit from EBT. The newer electronic transfers allow for online shopping and simpler transactions, meaning that you can still use your EBT card if you’re ill, self-isolating, or unable to get to the store.
However, you may need to add a payment method of your own to cover delivery fees, tips, and any non-food items you may want to buy. Happy shopping!