Monday, April 6, 2015


Putting photos on SNAP EBT cards seems like a simple anti-fraud idea. But in Massachusetts, which started putting photos on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards in 2013, it hasn’t worked. The main reason is that, under federal law, you sometimes have a right to use a SNAP card that was issued to someone else.

Food stamps aren’t awarded to an individual; they go to a household, and anyone in the household is entitled by federal law to use the E.B.T. card the food stamps come on. If you don’t have to be the person in the photo to use the card, how is the photo supposed to stop misuse? Additionally, federal law prohibits retailers from subjecting SNAP shoppers to special scrutiny. So, if a retailer doesn’t ordinarily ask for a photo I.D. to verify credit card transactions, it’s not supposed to scrutinize the photos on E.B.T. cards either. This gives stores an additional reason to ignore the photos — and in supermarkets where the shopper swipes the card through a reader directly, the clerk may never even come in possession of the card to examine it in the first place.

Source: New York Times, 3/27/15, SNAP Photo ID; Urban Institute, 3/15, SNAP ID