The federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly called “food stamps,” helps families to afford fresh, healthy food and ingredients to prepare meals at home. The money can be used on foods like bread, dairy, meat, fish, poultry, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and many other items.
SNAP EBT cards are accepted at many places across the country, including gas stations, grocery stores, and even some online grocers. But not every grocery store accepts SNAP. The federal government does not mandate private businesses to accept the form of payment, the same way they don’t mandate stores to accept credit or debit cards.
However, it can be in a store’s best interests to accept SNAP EBT. A study from market research firm IRI discovered that SNAP purchases account for 12% of food and beverage sales both online and in stores. During the pandemic, SNAP shoppers drove 19% of dollar growth for retailers that accepted EBT payment, while other shoppers drove just 1% of growth, CNBC reported. So why doesn’t every grocery store accept SNAP?
First, the store must apply for the program and be authorized by the USDA to participate. They also must meet one of two criteria, TheGroceryStoreGuy.com reports — they must either have at least three units of three different varieties for each staple food category. So, a smaller store that only carries, for instance, one variety of cereal and one type of bread, would not qualify.
Otherwise, they must have more than 50% of their total gross retail sales from staple foods.
While most grocery stores qualify under the first criteria, it could be tricky for a smaller store to meet the requirements. First, they must carry at least three varieties of food across four categories:
- Bread or cereal
- Meat, poultry or fish
- Dairy products
- Vegetables or fruits
Additionally, those varieties must include three units of one perishable food choice in two categories. Perishable foods would include anything that requires freezing or refrigeration. So, if a store only carries canned vegetables, with no fresh fruit or vegetables, it would not qualify.
In some rural areas where lower-income families have limited access to food, the government may loosen these requirements and allow a retailer to accept SNAP EBT. This way, they can assure SNAP beneficiaries in that area have access to the food they need through the program.
Stores that don’t accept SNAP EBT for payment either do not meet the qualifications or do not want to go through the process of approval. The license to accept EBT must then be renewed every five years and it requires a visit from a government agent to verify qualification.
If a store feels it won’t derive significant revenue through SNAP EBT customers, perhaps because it is located in a higher-income neighborhood, it may not bother to go through the application process. However, with so many grocery stores and online retailers accepting SNAP, it shouldn’t be hard to find one that does.
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