Why Do Some Grocery Chains Not Accept EBT?


EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) is used by about 39 million Americans and provides much-needed assistance to lower-income people. While many stores accept them, not everyone does, so I wondered why do some grocery chains not accept EBT?

Here’s what I know from looking into it:

Grocery chains sometimes do not accept EBT if they are unable to meet the criteria set up by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). But they may also want to avoid having to apply for and implement the program or they may not want to have the appearance of catering to a lower-income clientele.

In this article, I’ll share why some stores don’t accept them, what you can buy with them, and other vital info about EBT. And I’ll give you a list of all the top grocers nationwide that do take EBT.

But before we dive in, I think it’s important to clarify some of the terms as things like food stamps, “government benefits” SNAP, and other terms often get thrown around interchangeably.

So the main terms are:

  • Food stamps – Another (older) term for The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides money for groceries to lower-income families
  • SNAP benefits – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides money for groceries to lower-income families
  • EBT – A SNAP electronic payment system used by all SNAP beneficiaries. All other forms of food stamps were eliminated in 2004.
  • WIC – Similar, but different than SNAP. WIC stands for The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, providing food benefits to lower-income pregnant women, women who recently had a baby, breastfeeding women, and woman with infants and children up to age 5.

Let’s get started.

Are grocery stores required to accept food stamps?

Grocery stores are not required to accept food stamps though most chains do accept them. But beyond providing the service to customers, grocery stores also generate billions of dollars in profits by taking food stamps.

So, it’s more income for them (a CNBC article suggests that retailers could lose an average of $7 billion annually if there’s a reduction in SNAP benefits).

Later in this article, I’ll share a list of grocery stores that accept them.

The fact is that stores have to be approved before they can accept food stamps. They have to be authorized to participate in the program, which is monitored by the USDA.

Specifically, they have to meet one of these criteria:

  • Criteria A- Staple food inventory – A store must (minimally) have 3 units of 3 different varieties for each staple food category on a regular basis. In other words, have staple items on their shelf in a variety of categories all the time as most grocery stores do.
  • Criteria B – Staple food sales – A store must have over 50% of the total gross retail sales come from the sale of staple foods. In other words, an automotive parts store that adds a drink cooler can’t qualify to take government benefits.

What qualifies as staple foods?

They are basic foods that make up a considerable chunk of a person’s diet. They are prepared at home and eaten as a meal. Accessory foods, prepared foods, and heated foods are not regarded as a part of staple foods.

The following are staple food categories:

  • bread or cereals
  • meat, poultry, or fish
  • dairy products
  • vegetables or fruits

There must be at least one perishable variety to qualify under Criteria A.

Most grocery stores are authorized under Criterion A. Its requirements are three stocking units of 3 staple varieties in each of the four staple food categories and three stocking units of 1 perishable food variety in at least two staple food categories.

The criteria are not rigidly adhered to, as some stores may still be approved if they are located in an area where SNAP clients have significantly limited access to food.

Once approval has been granted, within 30 days, all paid and unpaid employees of the grocery store must be trained on how SNAP benefits work.

Stores that meet the criteria are issued a license, which has to be renewed every five years.

Do all supermarkets accept EBT?

Not all supermarkets accept EBT but most do. However, stores whose inventory changes frequently or stores that primarily sell household goods may not qualify to accept SNAP benefits.

As shown above, only those that have met the government’s requirements are eligible to accept EBT. 

It stands to reason that supermarkets whose products and sales do not meet the criteria cannot accept EBT. So, rest assured that the few that do not accept have probably not met the USDA requirements.

The grocery stores and supermarkets that accept EBT are making bank big time.

Naturally, most savvy stores want to have a piece of the cake. Consider that Walmart, alone, gets SNAP sales of about $13 billion each year!

What can’t be bought with EBT?

You can’t buy non-food grocery items because EBT is strictly for food. It’s not for other basic or essential items. So, you can’t use it for the following:

  • Shampoo
  • Lotion, powder, sunscreen, lip balm
  • Cleaning products
  • Haircare products
  • Deodorant
  • Tampon and pads
  • Diapers
  • Soap
  • Detergent
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss
  • Toilet paper
  • Pharmacy products
  • Energy drinks
  • Beer, wine, and liquor
  • Cigarettes and Tobacco
  • Prepared food
  • Pet food

SNAP’s focus is on helping low-income people get the food they need to be healthy. The following are the categories one must belong to be qualified (just one of the categories):

  • Working for low wages or working part-time;
  • Unemployed
  • Receiving welfare or other public assistance payments
  • Elderly or disabled and are low-income
  • Homeless

Why wouldn’t a grocery store accept food stamps?

A grocery store may not accept food stamps if they are unable to comply with the USDA criteria, or if they don’t want to deal with the possible issues arising from applying for and setting up the program and implementing the SNAP EBT system.

But as we’ve said, most normal grocery stores CAN qualify to accept food stamps.

So if they don’t, most likely the store doesn’t want to go through the “stress” of getting government approval and having government agents coming to inspect whether it’s complying with the criteria. 

It’s also possible that the store owners have an upper-scale clientele and don’t want to be associated with lower-income or bargain shoppers.

I know that’s a little harsh, but I’m certain there are some retailers out there who see it that way.

And it’s not just a 1-time application with the government.

They are issued a license, which has to be renewed every five years. So a grocery store won’t be able to accept food stamps if their license has lapsed, and they’ve yet to get a renewal.

What are examples of grocery stores that accept food stamps? 

The following are some of the best-known grocery stores that accept food stamps:

  • Acme Fresh Market
  • Albertsons
  • ALDI
  • Brookshire’s
  • Costco
  • Dollar General
  • Dollar Tree
  • Fred Meyer
  • The Fresh Market
  • Giant Food Stores
  • Grocery Outlet
  • Harris Teeter
  • H-E-B
  • H Mart
  • Ingles Markets
  • Jewel-Osco
  • Kroger
  • Meijer
  • Piggly Wiggly
  • Price Chopper
  • QFC
  • Raley’s
  • Ralphs
  • Randall’s
  • Safeway
  • Sam’s Club
  • Save A Lot
  • ShopRite
  • Sprouts Farmers Market
  • Target
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Vons
  • Walmart
  • Wegmans
  • Whole Foods
  • Winn-Dixie

Now that you know the stores that accept it, you might wonder whether grocery delivery platforms such as Instacart accept EBT.

This is what I explored in a recent article of mine. In the article, I looked at whether Instacart takes EBT, what food you can buy online with EBT, and if other grocery delivery services work with EBT.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

In the preceding paragraphs, we looked at whether all grocery stores are required to accept EBT.

But we also looked at if all supermarkets accept them, why some stores won’t accept them, what items you can’t use them to buy, and we wrapped up with a list of stores that accept them. 

Most stores want to accept them, but they have to meet the criteria before they can.

In some cases, they may not be able to. Or, even when they’ve been approved when the license lapses, they have to wait until it’s renewed before they can continue to accept EBT.


Photo which requires attribution:

20151117-FNS-LSC-0605 (EBT card) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is licensed under Public domain

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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