Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Electronic Benefits Transfer (SNAP/EBT)

MFFM EBT Services and Support describes how MFFM can help your market start and sustain an EBT program. Please contact info@mffm.org with any questions.

Implementing WIC and SNAP at Maine Farmers’ Markets – a 2 page summary from the Maine Department of Agriculture.

EBT Guidelines (.doc 571 Kb) from the ME Dept of Ag.

The Downeast Business Alliance has published a report with suggestions of how a market can begin accepting EBT. It’s called the Operation Market Quest Report.

A comparison of Third Party Providers (TPP’s) [pdf 47Kb] was done by City Seed of New Haven, CT. in 2010. See the entire report here [pdf 856Kb].

SNAP/EBT Glossary

EIN – Employer’s Identification Number, functions in many ways like a Social Security Number for a business or an organization. To apply for accepting EBT, you must provide either a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Employer’s Identification Number. You do not need to have employees to obtain an EIN. You can apply for an EIN here.

FNS – Food and Nutrition Services, the department of the United States Department of Agriculture that facilitates the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as other food assistance benefits redeemed at farmers’ markets

SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal benefit program run by the United States Department of Agriculture that provides vouchers for food to low-income people

EBT – Electronic Benefit Transfers, the system that allows SNAP benefits to be redeemed via an electronic card similar to a debit card

Scrip – The paper receipt, wooden or plastic token given to a SNAP customer after they swipe their EBT card; can be used like cash at the market in exchange for appropriate food items

Pine Tree Card – In Maine, EBT benefits are linked to the Pine Tree Card

POS Terminal – Point of Sale terminal that can accept EBT cards; some POS terminals can also accept credit and/or debit cards

Quest – EBT cards are processed using the Quest network, which is similar to a credit/debit card processor.

Wired EBT Terminal – POS terminal that requires electricity and a phone line to operate; can be used with a Manual EBT Voucher system when there is not immediate access to electricity and a phone line

Wireless EBT Terminal – Hand held POS terminal that can be operated without a phone line where there is cellular coverage

Manual EBT Voucher – A carbon copy form signed by the EBT cardholder that allows market management to accept EBT benefits through telephone verification; used most often with markets that have a wired terminal but no immediate access to electricity/phone line or when wireless terminals are not operational

Third Party Processor (TPP) – A fee-for-service company that provides POS terminals and transaction services; there are many TPPs and markets are encouraged to “shop around” before settling on the right TPP


How do we begin accepting SNAP/EBT? (from the Farmers’ Market Coalition website )
An essential first step is to read more about the process of becoming a SNAP-authorized retailer and apply for a FNS number. FMC recommends reading SNAP at Farmers Markets: a How-To Handbook , a publication co-authored by USDA and the Project for Public Spaces, as well as a complementary guide, SNAP/EBT at Your Farmers Market: Seven Steps to Success.

Here is a very basic overview of the process:

One:
Submit an online application with Food and Nutrition Services here .
If accepted, this will give your market a SNAP retailer license (FNS #)

Two:
After completing your application, send the required print documentation to your local FNS field office. Find the office here.

Three:
Rent, lease, or purchase EBT equipment.. This is known as a POS (Point of Sale) terminal. There are both wired and wireless options, as well as the option to accept credit and debit cards in addition to EBT. They can be manned by the market manager or a third party operator, and can either be purchased or leased for the market season. While there are a number of merchant service providers in the marketplace, some examples include TXDirect. and Total Merchant Services.

Expect to pay between $400 and $1000 for a terminal, depending on its features, or around $50 for a monthly rental fee. There are additional fees for wireless, customer service, setup, and per-transaction. Keep in mind that credit/debit card acceptance will increase overall sales, and that renting a terminal with seasonal account closure will increase monthly costs but will eliminate the problems of owning an obsolete machine, storing the machine, and paying service fees in Extending the Market Season.

If you are not able to purchase or obtain a POS terminal or have an offsite terminal, you can accept manual vouchers. Refer to the two guides linked above for a step-by-step guide to how to do this.

Four:
Choose an EBT transaction system. Using a central terminal at the market is usually preferred, as it minimizes costs and enables 100% vendor participation, as each vendor does not have to apply for a SNAP license. You can accept EBT transactions through a token system or a receipt system.

Five:
Train EBT managers. These managers must be able to assist customers, vendors, and volunteers, must know how to use and troubleshoot the EBT system, must be able to keep records and track sales, and must keep track of customer experience and needed changes in the system.

Six:
Train vendors. Vendors must keep records to make sure they are properly reimbursed, know what can and can’t be sold to SNAP benefit holders, make sure their staff know the system, and display proper signage.

Seven:
Advertise your system! Visit local social services offices, schools, daycares, and senior buildings. Make ads for local newspapers. Create banners and flyers. Consider incentive programs, such Wholesome Wave Foundation‘s Double Value Coupon Program.

Throughout this process, be sure to take advantage of the many tools and resources available to you online. The Farmers Market Coalition’s resource library has a whole section devoted to EBT, including sample flyers, tokens, guidebooks, and overviews of the regulations. Another must-read is the USDA website, which has a list of grant resources for EBT-using farmers markets, as well as its own step-by-step EBT guide.

Additional Resources:

*Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP recipients with farmers’ markets
* Marketumbrella.org’s Electronic Benefits Primer: Bridging the Digital Divide, How to Bring Wireless EBT to Your Farmers Market.

About Tom Roberts

When I started attending the Brewer Farmers’ Market back in August of 1983, my sole concern was being able to sell the produce my farm was growing at a good price. After attending market for a year or two, I began to realize that how the market was organized had a great impact on my sales. And how the market was organized also influenced how it made decisions about dues, new members, what could be sold at market, and how it promoted itself—and this, too, had an impact on my sales. So I got involved in the market’s steering committee and began to understand how various market members thought the market should operate. Some wanted a market czar, some wanted everyone to be allowed to do their own thing. But everyone seemed to agree that if the market as a whole did well, then so did they.