Q&A on basic food/SNAP EBT accounts

Updated:

  1. If someone builds a very high food balance because they don’t use the card often, does that balance raise an issue with case workers?

Staff in the local offices will receive an alert to inform them when clients have a balance of at least a total of 3 months’ worth of benefits in their account.   Staff may look at usage compared to the monthly benefits issued and contact the household to see if they have any challenges in using their EBT cards or if they were unaware of the amount of benefits they have available each month.

 

2.  Two EBT recipients raised this question: If the food balance seems very high, do case-workers ever cut/suspend the monthly benefit until the balance is spent?

Federal regulations for established by USDA Food and Nutrition Service do not allow states to suspend or terminate benefits based on a high balance.  

  • If a household has an EBT balance that is three times the maximum monthly allotment for their household size, we send the household a letter informing them that they have accumulated a high balance, reminding them that the benefits are for their monthly food needs, and offering assistance if they have questions about using the EBT card.
  • If it appears that the household may have other income or may otherwise be ineligible for benefits, staff would refer the case to the Office of Fraud and Accountability for investigation.




3.  Is there any way for your accountants to keep track of how much is spent, versus how much is saved by a cardholder?  We’re wondering how much money is sitting in EBT food accounts, ear-marked for recipients, but not spent on a monthly basis?

 

  • We do have automation that tracks when clients reach a certain level of benefits as a method of determining both appropriate benefit issuance as well as ensuring that clients with special needs can be assisted.   If the balance is questionable, it is possible to do a review of the deposits, expenditures, and balance for an individual client, but this work is not yet automated. 

 

We do have the ability to pull reports on the statewide total of SNAP funds that were deposited into EBT food accounts and the statewide total amounts spent from those funds. 

The USDA Office of Research and Analysis report Benefit Redemption Patterns in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program indicated that households tend to spend their benefits quickly—63 percent of households used at least half of their benefit within the first week following issuance and 56 percent used 90 percent of it within two weeks. In total, households redeemed 80 percent of benefits within two weeks of issuance (97 percent by the end of the month). According to this USDA report, the vast majority of households did not carry over more than $10 into the next month or have an account balance greater than $10 at the end of the month.

4. What is the benefit range, in dollars?  Several EBT recipients told me they get 200 dollars in food assistance every month. Thomas suggested some card-holders get more than a thousand dollars a month. Is that true? Any way to find out how many thousand-plus dollar recipients are out there?

Monthly benefits vary based on the household’s monthly income and living expenses.  A single-person household with little or no income would receive $200 in Basic Food benefits monthly.   The same household who has income near the income cutoff would receive as low as the $16 minimum set for one or two person households.  The average monthly issuance per household in 2012 was $240.44.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service sets the maximum monthly benefit level each year.  Below are the current maximum monthly benefits based on household size:

Number of eligible household members 

Maximum Allotment

1

$200

2

367

3

526

4

668

5

793

6

952

7

1,052

8

1,202

9

1,352

10

1,502

Each Additional Member

+150

Food assistance households of seven or more persons may receive $1,000 or more if they have little or no income.  This January, 594,796 households received Basic Food benefits.  Of these, 1,368 had an issuance of $1,000 or more.  This represents 2/10ths of 1% of the Basic Food caseload. 

5.  Confirming this: Thomas says once you have the food benefits in your account, that money is yours to keep forever, even if you eventually gain income from employment, inheritance etc. True?

Yes, as required under federal regulations.  The household keeps the food benefits in their account as long as the account is active.  If the account has no activity for 365 consecutive days, regulations require the department to expunge the benefits from the account. 

6. How much money is spent on EBT food accounts in this state?  Is that number growing?

The average monthly EBT food assistance transactions in the state total over $142 million.  The amount spent has increased along with the caseload growth over the past several years.