Why doesn’t every grocery store accept SNAP EBT food stamps?

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The federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps,” helps families buy fresh, healthy food and ingredients to cook at home. The money can be spent on bread, milk, meat, fish, poultry, snacks, soft drinks and many other products.

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SNAP EBT cards are accepted at many locations nationwide, including gas stations, grocery stores, and even some online stores. But not every grocery store accepts SNAP. The federal government does not mandate that private businesses accept a form of payment any more than it mandates that stores accept credit or debit cards.

However, it may be in the store’s best interest to accept SNAP EBT. A study by marketing research firm IRI found that SNAP purchases account for 12% of food and beverage sales, both online and in stores. During the pandemic, SNAP shoppers accounted for 19% of dollar growth for retailers accepting EBT payments, while other shoppers provided just 1% of the growth, CNBC reported. Why doesn’t every grocery store accept SNAP?

First, a store must apply to participate in the program and receive USDA approval to participate. They must also meet one of two criteria, according to — they must have at least three units of three different varieties for each major food category. Thus, for example, a small store that carries only one type of cereal and bread will not meet these requirements.

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Otherwise, they must have more than 50% of the total retail sales of staple foods.

Although most grocery stores meet the first criteria, it may be difficult for a smaller store to qualify. First, they must carry at least three types of food in four categories:

  • Bread or cereal

  • Meat, poultry or fish

  • Dairy products

  • Vegetables or fruits

In addition, these varieties must contain three units of one perishable food choice in two categories. Perishable foods include anything that requires freezing or refrigeration. So, if the store only has canned vegetables with no fresh fruits or vegetables, it will not qualify.

In some rural areas where low-income families have limited access to food, the government may waive these requirements and allow the retailer to accept SNAP EBT. That way, they can access the food that SNAP beneficiaries in that area need through the program.

Stores that don’t accept SNAP EBT payments either don’t qualify or don’t want to go through the approval process. After that, the EBT acceptance license must be renewed every five years, and it requires a state agent visit to verify proficiency.

If a store feels that it will not generate significant revenue through SNAP EBT customers, perhaps because it is located in a high-income neighborhood, it may not bother going through the application process. However, with many grocery stores and online retailers that accept SNAP, it shouldn’t be difficult to find one.

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This article originally appeared on Why Doesn’t Every Grocery Store Accept SNAP EBT Food Stamps?