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EBT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Learn More About Electronic Benefit Transfer


What is EBT?

Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, is the distribution of benefits  on a debit card, making the issuance of state public assistance and federal food stamp benefits faster and easier through the use of electronic transactions. By using the EBT card, cardholders can access benefits at the point-of-sale (POS) terminals of retailers authorized by USDA to accept the EBT card.

Frequently Asked Questions about EBT

Do I need a checking or savings account to have an EBT card?
No. Your EBT account is not a checking or savings account. It is a special account just for your food stamp and/or cash benefits. You must use your EBT card to access the benefits in your account.

What if I already have my cash benefits direct deposited, do I have to use an EBT card to access those benefits?
No. If you already receive your cash benefits by direct deposit, you may continue to do so.

Will I be able to use my EBT card in other counties and states?
Your EBT card will work throughout California at any store that displays the Quest® symbol. It will also work outside of California in almost every state in the country. Look for the Quest® symbol. If you don’t see one, look for a sign that says “EBT” or that the store accepts food stamps. If you are not sure, ask the store manager.

What happens if an ATM 'eats' my EBT card?
Occasionally an ATM machine will 'eat' an EBT card. In the banking industry this is called a 'captured card.' In most cases, this occurs when you do not remove your card from the ATM in a timely manner. Each bank has its own policy regarding captured cards. In some cases, the bank will return your card if you present proper identification. However, in many cases the bank will destroy the captured card, regardless of whether you request it back with proper ID. The bank will direct you to contact the issuer to request a replacement card. One benefit of EBT is introducing cardholders to ATM technology and mainstream banking services. As such you are treated as any other ATM user in the event of a captured card. You should request a new card through the EBT Customer Service ARU (1-877-328-9677), or if you need a replacement immediately, you should get one at your local county assistance office.

Can the government tell what I bought with my EBT card?
The EBT system does not keep a record of what you buy.

Is my personal information in the EBT system kept private?
Yes. Information about clients in the EBT system is under the same privacy rules that govern the CalFresh Program and CalWORKs.

Will the store keep track of what I buy and send me junk mail?
When you use your EBT card to buy something, the store only knows that you are using your EBT account. However, if you use a store’s own Club Card or Bonus Card, the store will keep a record of what you bought and may send you coupons or advertisements. The store’s card provides that information, not the EBT system. EBT information continues to be private.

Will the county make me come in to explain my actions if I use my EBT card in another state?
There are no rules against using your EBT card outside of California. However, you are required to report any address change to your public assistance office. You must live in California to be eligible for benefits from a California county. The EBT system will produce a report that shows card use outside of California. If you receive benefits in California but use them in another state for several months in a row, the county may ask if you are still living at the same address.

What happens if I don’t use my full month’s benefit?
These benefits are available for you to use, and the next month's benefits are added to the account balance.

Is there a fee to access CalFresh benefits, and can a retailer charge a fee?
No. Federal regulations prohibit any CalFresh Program participating retailer from charging a fee for accessing CalFresh benefits.

For more information about the California EBT project, you can visit the EBT website at www.ebtproject.ca.gov