The ins and outs of EBTs


Stands for: Electronic Benefits Transfer

Introduced in Maine: In 2003. In the case of food stamps, the plastic debit-looking cards replaced packets of paper stamps. In the case of other benefits, it replaced mailed checks.

Benefits that can be placed on the card: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (for food; formerly known as food stamps); ASPIRE Support Services (for expenses like child care and transportation that help recipients maintain jobs); State Supplement (needs-based benefit to elderly or disabled); child care assistance; and reimbursement of Dirigo Health program expenses.

Number of people with EBT cards in Maine (approx.): 122,000

Number of people added every month (approx.): 1,800

Are there constraints on what the money can be spent on? Yes and no. SNAP has restrictions (purchase must be edible, with a nutritional label, and can’t be alcohol, tobacco, vitamins or hot/ready-to-eat foods). ASPIRE Support Services also has some restrictions. While the benefit can be taken out and spent as cash, the expectation is it will be used for agreed-upon expenses like transportation. Otherwise, the state doesn’t have a say in how cash benefits are spent.


For SNAP purchases, do nutrition or price factor into what is allowed? No.

How often is the card loaded with funds? For most programs, once a month. Child care benefits are weekly. It’s also charged with funds when a new recipient becomes eligible or there is an updated benefit amount.

Can someone else use your card? Yes, on your behalf, with your permission (example: child grocery shopping for a house-bound, elderly parent).

Source: John Martins, Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesman; program websites