If you require financial assistance from the government, you’ll need to know how to get EBT cash benefits. Generally, the Electonic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program is used as a replacement for the old Food Stamps program. Thus, EBT cards are primarily used in conjunction with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That said, some individuals can also qualify for separate cash benefits that do not hold the same limitations as SNAP funds. In today’s guide, we will explain how to get EBT cash benefits, where you can use them, and how much you can actually get. So, let’s get started!
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SNAP vs. Cash Assistance
Before we explain how to get EBT cash benefits, it’s important to talk about the differences between the two primary programs that fall under the EBT umbrella. First, you have SNAP, which helps low-income individuals and families meet their basic food needs. Generally, SNAP is limited to healthy foods that you can buy from grocery stores and supermarkets. With a few rare exceptions, you cannot use SNAP funds to purchase hot, ready-made meals at restaurants or fast-food establishments. You also cannot use SNAP funds to buy medication, household items, tobacco, or alcohol. For a full list of what SNAP does and does not cover, be sure to check out our guide on what an EBT card can do.
While the phrase “cash benefits” may sound like an all-encompassing term for the funds you have on an EBT card, these benefits actually function separately from SNAP funds. This is why cash benefits are frequently referred to as “emergency” or “temporary” cash assistance. While SNAP covers food costs, cash benefits can be used for a wide range of needs.
One of the most important benefits of cash assistance is the ability to withdraw funds from ATMs using your EBT card. Essentially, an EBT card functions much like a debit card. However, if you only have SNAP funds, you can’t withdraw cash or use your card to pay for housing or non-food items. To pay for these things, you must qualify for EBT cash benefits.
Who qualifies for EBT cash benefits?
EBT cash benefits are attained through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This is a federal program that provides funds to individual states. Some states have other programs that use TANF funds to specifically target things like childcare costs, work preparation, and other work-related assistance.
In any case, you can only get EBT cash benefits if you meet the following requirements:
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- Are unemployed or underemployed (but actively working towards full employment)
- Have very low income (based on the cost of living in your location)
- Are a U.S. citizen, resident alien, or qualified alien
- Have a child who is 18 years of age or younger, OR
- Be pregnant, OR
- Be 18 years or younger and the head of your household
As you can see, TANF is designated for those most in need of financial assistance. In essence, TANF is simply a replacement for older welfare programs. Thus, you will have to show that you are financially struggling and have dependents (or future dependents) under your care.
How to get EBT cash benefits
Since TANF funds are ultimately administered by your resident state, the process for getting an EBT card and cash benefits varies based on your location. In most cases, you can apply online or over the phone. To find the nearest TANF program in your state, you can reference this interactive map.
As an example, let’s say that you live in California. By clicking on California in the state map linked above, you will be provided with multiple locations to contact regarding TANF funds. Once you find the location nearest to you, you can call or visit the location to officially submit your application. Generally speaking, you will need to provide some proof of identification, as well as information regarding your housing, employment, income, and number of dependents.
If you meet the requirements outlined above, you will probably be able to secure EBT cash benefits. However, each state may have specific requirements during the application process. Therefore, you will need to contact the TANF program representative in your area for more precise information.
How much can I expect to receive?
As previously stated, EBT cash benefits vary by state and location. Additionally, the amount you will receive will depend on your current income, the size of your family, and your state of employment. For example, if you live in the state of Washington and have a family of three, you can get a maximum monthly grant of $569 per month (as of 2020). If you begin working after applying for cash benefits, TANF will calculate half of your reported income and deduct it from the amount you receive. If your income exceeds the poverty level in your area, you could lose eligibility for TANF.
However, it’s important to note that EBT cash benefits don’t last forever. You can only receive TANF funds for a maximum of 5 years. Once you hit the 5-year limit, you will no longer be eligible for EBT cash benefits, though you may still be able to qualify for SNAP.
Additionally, the actual amount you receive can vary widely based on a number of factors. Most applicants do not receive the maximum amount available. As a result, the average national payout for TANF recipients in 2020 was $492 per month. However, this number tends to rise every year.
The Bottom Line
Nobody wants to be in a position where they need funds but cannot access them. If you are unemployed or underemployed, you likely need the help of the state to make ends meet while you look for more work. This is why the government has programs like TANF and SNAP to help those most in need. While these are federal programs, the funds are distributed at the state level, which can complicate things for many people. Consequently, figuring out how to get EBT cash benefits can be quite challenging. Fortunately, by contacting the local TANF representative in your area, you can quickly learn the process to get EBT cash benefits fast!