SNAP and Photo EBT Cards: Information and Resources


What are photo EBT cards and who gets one?

Massachusetts state law requires that some DTA recipients be issued Photo EBT Cards with a picture of the head of household - but MANY People are EXEMPT. 

If you receive SNAP or DTA cash benefits, you may need to have a photo EBT card. DTA will either use an available photo from the Massachusetts RMV (from your driver's license or state ID) or will schedule a time for you to come to DTA for a photo.  DTA cannot hold up your benefits pending a photo.  

Retailers who accept EBT cannot refuse to let all SNAP household members use the card, even if their name or photo is not on the card. They should not inspect the card or treat you any differently than any other customer. See more below.

Here are pictures of three different EBT cards.  The information below summarizes key information and your household's rights.


 Image of EBT card            

DTA is now issuing TWO types of EBT cards - shown above.  Applicants who are not exempt recieve the EBT cards with a photo--either from a photo on record with the RMV or from a photo taken in a DTA office. Applicants and recipients who are exempt from this law receive EBT cards that state "VALID WITHOUT PHOTO." 

ALL household members have a right to use the EBT card, even if their picture is not on the card.  As of early 2016, newly issued photo and valid without photo EBT cards state this on the back. 

Some households may still have the blue "Bay State Access" card (sample card above). These cards were issued previous to December 2013 and are still valid EBT cards for recipients who are exempt. SNAP or cash recipients do not need a new EBT card and grocers/retailers should still honor these cards.  

These three EBT cards work the same way and should be handled the same way by retailers. The SNAP household can use the same PIN they had for the former blue card, or can change the PIN at any time. Grocers and retailers do not need to do anything different to approve transactions as long as the customer's EBT card is working and the proper PIN is used. 

If a SNAP household discovers their EBT card is deactivated or not working, urge them to contact DTA immediately. An EBT household can always check if the card is active and check the card balance by calling the EBT Customer Service Number, located on the back of the EBT card: 1-800-997-2555.

What are the exceptions to the Photo EBT rule?

As of February 1, 2016,  359,160 SNAP households were exempt from the photo EBT requirement--or about 75% of the MA SNAP caseload. See DTA's March 2016 report on clients exempt from the Photo EBT requirement. Under federal and state law, there are seven EXCEPTIONS to the Photo EBT Card requirement. The SNAP household does not need a photo on the card if the card holder (head of  household) is:

  • Age 60 or older
  • Disabled
  • Blind
  • Homeless
  • Under age 19
  • Victim of domestic violence or
  • Has a sincerely held religious belief objecting to a photo/facial image.

If you get a DTA letter telling you that you need a photo EBT card, but you meet one of the above categories, you can call DTA at 877-382-2363 to request an exemption from the EBT photo requirement. 

Note: A victim of domestic violence can self-attest to the domestic violence and is not required to have a “heightened level of security” on his or her case. DTA will refer these individuals to a domestic violence specialist for any additional services needed. Clients with disabilities do not need to receive disability-based benefits in order to claim this exception, and do not need to verify the disability. Any EBT photo cardholder who turns 60, becomes disabled, becomes a victim of domestic violence or meets the other exception can also get a replacement “Valid without Photo” card issued at any time, for no fee. Also, if the client is not eligible for SNAP benefits due to immigration status (but recieves SNAP for eligible household members such as citizen children), they must also receive a "Valid Without Photo" card. 

If I am not exempt, how does DTA issue a photo EBT card?

For SNAP applicants or recipients whot do not meet one of the six exemptions, one of two things will happen.  1) For persons who have a Mass driver's license or State ID with the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), DTA will use this photo and mail a card to the recipient with the photo, or the client can go in to a DTA office to pick it up. 2) If the RMV does not have a photo, or DTA is not sure it is correct, DTA will schedule an in-office photo appointment. 

Recipients can RESCHEDULE the photo appointments if they cannot make it for any reason. DTA cannot deny or terminate benefits for household failure to show up for a photo appointment. Please let us know if a case is closed because a client could not get to DTA for a photo.  

Effective January 12, 2017, USDA issued regulations requiring states to follow certain rules if implementing photo EBT. (F.R., Vol. 81 # 239, December 13, 2016). The federal rules confirm that all household members have the right to use the card and that retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently that other customers. Further, the new rules require states with photo EBT to:

1. Have a hardship policy for individuals who cannot get to a SNAP local office (such as lack of child care or transportation) 7 C.F.R. 273.8(f)(5)

2. To issue an EBT card to expedited (emergency) applicants without delay; and 7 C.F.R. 274.8(f)(6)(ii)

3. To not deny or withhold SNAP to an entire household if the head of household does not comply. 7 C.F.R. 274.8(f)(7). 

Contact MLRI if you have issues using or getting SNAP because of photo EBT. 

What are the rights of me or household members when we food shop?

1. Every SNAP household member has the right to use the EBT card.* 

Stores cannot refuse to accept the EBT card from household members, such as spouses or older children. This is true even if their name or photo is not on the card. In addition, caretakers or authorized representatives can also use the EBT card to food shop for the cardholder. Just like a debit card, the PIN is what keeps SNAP benefits safe and works as an electronic signature. If the proper PIN is used, the shopper should be able to use the card.

2. Stores cannot treat SNAP recipients differently from other shoppers.* 

A store clerk cannot ask to see your EBT photo card unless they routinely ask everyone using credit or debit cards to show a photo ID.  Also, stores that accept EBT cards cannot set up “SNAP-only” checkout lines or discriminate against SNAP households.

At this point in time, DTA is urging SNAP workers to collect detailed information on any incidents and report them to the Policy Hotline. MLRI will also produce materials for you and your clients to track any abuses. In addition, clients can file a 93-A demand letter if they experience issues with retailers when using their EBT card. Click here to visit a web page that has information about the process of filing a 93-A demand letter, along with a sample letter. 

*Federal rules protect the right of all authorized members to use the EBT card and to not be discriminated against, under the following Code of Federal Regulations:  7 CFR 274.7(A), 7 CFR 274.8(b)(5)(iv), 7 CFR. 278.2(b)

As of January 2016 the DTA EBT Brochure was updated to include these rights. 

When did Massachusetts start Photo EBT? 

In November 2013, DTA mailed new EBT photo cards to SNAP card holders required to have a photo on the EBT card. DTA used photos available from the Mass Registry of Motor Vehicles. Note: DTA did NOT mail new cards to the 250,000 SNAP households exempt from the EBT photo card rules (See exceptions above).  During the initial roll-out, DTA deactived the old blue EBT card at midnight before the date the recipient's December benefits were issued (The date SNAP benefits are issued is based on the last digit of the SSN of the household). Approximately 12,000 MA EBT households did not get their new cards before their blue cards were deactivated. DTA also mailed photo appointment notices to households that needed a photo but did not have an RMV photo on record. 

The Urban Institute published a report in March 2015 with many details about the flawed MA rollout of the photo EBT requirement: Assessing the Merits of Photo EBT Cards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Fliers About Photo EBT Rights and Exemptions:

1. 3 Things You Need To Know About Photo EBT Cards flier (English and Spanish). 

2. DTA's EBT Brochure, including information about the rights of households using an EBT card (see page 2). 

3. Religious Exemption Certification Statement: A DTA form for clients who have sincerly held religious beliefs against photos  

4.  DTA's October 2013 mailing to recipients on the new photo EBT requirement: This notice explained change, highlights that retailers cannot discriminate and that all household members can use the EBT card. 

5. MLRI informational flier for retailers and grocers, including a flier for MA Farmers Markets

For more information about Photo EBT cards, contact Pat Baker, MLRI, 617-357-0700 x 328 or Vicky Negus, x315.