New Options for Using EBT

I am an atypical American living in poverty. I am well-educated and highly skilled. I live in poverty due to the fact that my disability prevents me from holding a job. It is a challenge for me to commit the 10 hours per month to write and edit for this publication, and if I had to work at specific times, this would be totally undoable for me.

During my working years, I spent a lot of time working for agencies that helped people living in poverty. I firmly believe that the poor are best served by those who have shared experiences. I know what it is like to apply for Medicaid, FoodShare, and heat assistance. I know what it is like to use a food or essentials pantry. On top of all that, I have taught FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) classes.

At the federal level, the program that used to be known as Food Stamps is called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP is one of the most effective safety net programs, and one of the least susceptible to fraud despite what some politicians claim.

While my household usually only qualifies for the lowest amount of FoodShare, the additional relief granted through the COVID relief bill has benefitted us. During this time, I have learned that EBT (FoodShare) cards can be used in new ways to purchase groceries.

Kroger stores allow payment using an EBT card for pickup orders. To use FoodShare for your grocery purchase, when you get to the payment screen, just check the payment type box next to where it says EBT. When you go to pick up your order, call the pickup number, say you are paying with EBT and have your card ready. The person who has picked your order will bring out a card reader. The card reader is supposed to also scan coupons, but I have had no luck with this. You are better off loading digital coupons onto your account before placing your order.

The card readers use WiFi, so how well it works depends largely upon the time of day you schedule your order. Early mornings are a good time. When I have scheduled a pickup during peak WiFi hours, I had to go into the store to swipe my card. This wasn’t a big deal for me, as I have been fully vaccinated.

Walmart also accepts EBT for pickup orders, and the process is likely much the same as with Kroger. I have not tried placing an order for pickup with Walmart because of a glitch in the system that directs me to pickup my order in another city; something that I have heard others have experienced as well.

I may have started using pickup because of the pandemic, but now I am hooked. Grocery stores, with their bright lights and copious odors, are often migraine triggers for me. Pickup service is a real spoon-saver for spoonies like me.

Recently, I have discovered that I could use EBT to purchase groceries online, or at least I can do so from Amazon. I am hoping that other online grocers offer this option soon.

Walmart says they accept EBT on grocery purchases for delivery in 44 states (Wisconsin being one of the 44), but upon trying to place a grocery order made up of items I found when searching EBT eligible groceries, I did not find EBT listed as a payment method anywhere.

Using EBT on Amazon is fairly simple, but there is definitely a need for “buyer beware.” As with many sites that allow third party vendors, some items will be astronomically overpriced. If you see canned chili for $26, don’t just assume that is for a case. I have seen unscrupulous vendors actually try to sell one 15 oz. can of chili for this price.

Don’t assume that you can use your EBT on any grocery item; the product must have the words “EBT eligible” in the description. That said, items listed on Amazon that are EBT eligible are marked as such. I did not find that to be the case on the Walmart website.

To begin shopping eligible items, start with a search like “EBT eligible food.” This will provide lots of results. Amazon’s search tools are user friendly enough to yield results in a more specific search, such as “EBT eligible olive oil.”

FoodShare dollars can also be spent on seeds, plants and grow kits, as long as these grow edible items. Brick and mortar grocers don’t often sell these items, but Amazon does. I was able to spend some of my FoodShare on an oyster mushroom grow kit. I have used such a kit in the past and was able to get five harvests from it, so it is possible to get more bang for your FoodShare buck to do this.

If you already have an Amazon account connected to another payment method, such as a credit card or checking account, you will need to add a payment method to enter your EBT information. Once your card number is entered into the system, every time you decide to pay with EBT you will need to select that payment option.

If you have a Prime subscription, you should get free shipping on your order. If not, you only need to meet a minimum order amount of $25. Be careful to select the free shipping option. Without a Prime account, the site will not default to free shipping.

Speaking of Prime, EBT eligible households can purchase a Prime membership at a significantly reduced rate for up to four years.

The total cost of all EBT eligible items will appear on the screen. If your order total is higher than that amount, that could mean that you did not select or qualify for free shipping, but it can also mean that your cart contains some items that are not EBT eligible. You may still place your order. Anything that is not EBT eligible will be paid for with whatever other payment option you have on file. Typically, you will be instructed to select another payment option for those items. I find it simpler to order non-eligible items separate.

To complete your order, you will be asked to enter your PIN. In an effort to enhance security, the number keys move around on the screen each time you enter a number, so if you are using a touchscreen just be aware of this.

EBT card holders have lots of options. In addition to shopping in-store at local grocers, FoodShare shoppers can buy online, place orders for pickup, and shop area farmers markets.