Stores that are allowed to accept SNAP (previously known as “food stamps”) or EBT payments have gone through an application process in order to earn this status. The application process for accepting these payments includes obtaining an FNS number for EBT. But what is an FNS number? While it’s one of the most important parts of the FNS retailer application process, many store owners and managers don’t know what it is.
What is a Food and Nutrition Service, or FNS, number for EBT? Why do you need one? And how do you get it? You’ll find these answers and more below. But first, let’s look at EBT and SNAP benefits—what are they, and who are they for?
What Is Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)?
EBT, or electronic benefits transfer, is a system that processes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) transactions. When participating members shop in stores authorized to accept these payments, they use an EBT card. Their card account gets debited at the point of sale to pay for their items, and the store is then reimbursed from the appropriate program for sale. EBT benefits and associated card accounts are used throughout the nation, including in some U.S. territories. By June 2004, all states and territories had migrated from physical food stamp issuance to EBT card disbursements.
What Are SNAP Benefits?
SNAP benefits help participating individuals with food purchases. For members who grow their own food, SNAP also allows the purchase of seeds for their gardens.
SNAP benefits are loaded onto an EBT card that the individual receives from their local Health and Human Services department. Once the individual is approved for the program and their EBT card is loaded, the card is used like any other debit or credit card—but it can only be used at stores that accept (and have gone through the FNS number for the EBT application process) SNAP or EBT benefits, and it can only be used to purchase authorized items. For instance, neither SNAP nor other EBT benefits can be used to buy:
If you purposely or inadvertently allow customers to purchase items that aren’t allowed, you could be in trouble. Members cannot use SNAP for any inedible items, such as household cleaning items or other household bills. However, members with cash benefits on their EBT cards can purchase items necessary for their homes.
Individuals must meet the following requirements for acceptance into the SNAP program:
- Meet program guidelines and limits
- Have little to no money
- Be at least 18 years old (to manage their own SNAP case)
Several rules within the SNAP and TANF programs vary from state to state and also depend on whether there are children. Elderly or disabled people in the home. For instance, in Michigan, families have a five-year lifetime limit for receiving TANF program benefits. Some states require participants to have a job or to be actively seeking employment. Those who have a job are not permitted to quit without a valid reason. Other states, such as Texas, have a streamlined application process for applicants who are either disabled or over the age of 60.
There are income limits families must meet in order to qualify, and as income increases, benefits decrease—but this reduction isn’t dollar-for-dollar.
Approximately 41 million people will receive SNAP program benefits in 2021. This is an entire demographic of the population that you can serve if you accept EBT payments. But to get there, you have to apply to be a SNAP-participating retailer. Part of this application requires obtaining an FNS number for EBT. Before learning how to get an FNS number, let’s look at what the number represents.
What Is an FNS Number for EBT?
When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) permits you to accept SNAP or EBT transactions, this government agency issues your business an FNS number for EBT. You need a Food and Nutrition Service number to accept the EBT cards that hold participants’ SNAP and/or TANF benefits. You can’t accept these cards otherwise. So, what is an FNS number?
To get an FNS number for EBT for your business, you’ll need to visit the USDA’s FNS portal and fill out the FNS retailer application for the license to accept EBT cards. You’ll either be approved or denied based on the information you provide in your application.
If you’ve already applied and the USDA approved your business, your FNS number is on your business’s SNAP license. If you have more than one store location or if you offer products outside of your typical location, such as at a farmers’ market, you need a separate FNS number for EBT for each location. If you move your business to a new location, your current SNAP license becomes void, and you must reapply for a new FNS number.
Why Should I Get an FNS Number for My Store?
You might not want an FNS number if you don’t plan to offer services to recipients of SNAP benefits. For instance, a liquor store that also sells snack foods wouldn’t need an FNS number for EBT because, in most cases, the store would not qualify under USDA criteria.
The application is straightforward and simple, but some store owners might wonder why they need to get an FNS number for EBT—you can just process the card payments on your current POS system, right? Unfortunately, no—in fact, you can get in a lot of trouble for attempting to accept EBT Cash or SNAP payments without a license to do so.
Store owners who decide to apply for their FNS number for EBT and SNAP permits do so for one primary reason—to extend the ability for SNAP participants to shop in their stores. Not only does having a SNAP license allow you to open your business to more customers, but you’re also providing a service to your community by helping those who are less fortunate—those who rely on SNAP benefits to feed their families. It’s a smart business decision you can feel good about, and Zenti can help you with the process.
What Does a Business Need to Qualify as a SNAP-Participating Retailer?
The USDA FNS application asks for information about your business. Approval to become a SNAP retailer requires your business to meet certain criteria. Your business must meet at least one of these two requirements:
- You must offer staple foods.
- Your gross revenue from the sale of staple foods must be at least 51% of your overall revenue.
Now, what’s meant by “staple foods”? And how is this qualification determined?
Staple foods are foods that comprise—or should comprise—the majority of an individual’s diet. These foods are often bought, taken home, and consumed as part of a well-rounded meal. In most cases, prepackaged foods (with the exception of items like cereal) aren’t included in the definition. Meals or items that have been prepared by someone else or already cooked, such as a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store deli counter, also don’t qualify in most cases.
To qualify under the first requirement, you must continuously stock at least three varieties of three different staple foods. Staple foods include:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Eggs, poultry, or fish
- Bread and cereals
Two of the categories must also offer one perishable type at a minimum. So, for instance, one of your two categories is dairy—powdered milk would count as non-perishable, while a gallon of whole milk would be considered perishable. A large grocery store would meet this requirement in most cases.
To qualify under the second requirement, more than 50% of your store’s gross sales must come from selling foods in the categories above. A butcher shop typically qualifies because more than 50% of sales are within a staple category. A bakery, on the other hand, may not be granted an FNS number for EBT because, while they’re in the business of selling food, bakery items don’t typically qualify as staple foods in most cases.
Now that you know some of the criteria for a Food and Nutrition Services qualification, it’s time to apply.
How Do I Apply for an FNS Number?
While getting your FNS number for EBT from the USDA’s FNS website is certainly worth it, it’s not quite as cut and dried as simply asking for one. There are some hoops to jump through and an application with the USDA—but this only sounds like a lengthy, drawn-out process. In reality, it’s rather expedient.
To apply for your FNS number for EBT:
- Review program guidelines on the USDA’s FNS website at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap.
- Register your business with the USDA. After registering, you’ll receive a link to activate your account. After activation, you’re free to begin your application.
- Fill out* the application to accept SNAP. If you’re the owner of more than ten store locations, review the information for multi-store owners. (*Note: Once you start your application, you have 30 days to finish and submit it. Make sure you have all the information necessary to complete the application when you begin, such as name, address, Social Security number, and relevant store information.)
- Submit your application.
- After you submit the application, you’ll receive instructions for submitting the required documentation to back up your application, such as business license(s) and proof of sales figures, for instance.
- Once you’ve submitted your application and all the requested documents, you can check the real-time status of your FNS number for the EBT application at any time. During processing, Food and Nutrition Services might reach out if they need clarification or further info. You can also call the hotline for SNAP retailers at 1.877.823.4369.
Once the USDA’s FNS approves your application, all that’s left to do is acquire a POS system and PIN pad that works with EBT card acceptance.
Do I Need a New Card Processor To Take EBT Cards?
EBT cards aren’t processed through the same network as other credit or debit cards and subsequently require a point-of-sale machine capable of accepting this form of payment. Your current terminal may be compatible, but there are certain criteria, such as a terminal that’s set up for PIN debit payments with either a dedicated, stand-alone PIN pad or one that’s part of your terminal.
Once you have the right equipment, encryption keys from your merchant services provider must be programmed into it. When you obtain your EBT processing equipment from Zenti, we program your terminal and other equipment for you, so all you have to do is set up and start taking payments. If you’re keeping your existing equipment and merging EBT acceptance capability, we can reprogram your current terminal. All we need to complete your EBT merchant account setup is the FNS number for EBT on your SNAP permit. Zenti offers free EBT payment processing equipment.
Do All Stores Accept EBT Snap Benefits?
Not all stores accept EBT SNAP benefits, but many more stores accept it today than in previous years. SNAP benefits are loaded onto participants’ cards once each month to be used at stores that have applied for an FNS number for EBT and been authorized by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services program to accept EBT cash and SNAP payments. Retailers that accept EBT payments receive signs or decals from the USDA to place on doors and windows of the participating business.
EBT Merchant Services with Zenti
A retailer’s first step to accepting EBT and SNAP payments begins with authorization from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services program. You can learn more about this designation at the Department of Agriculture website and submit an application at the FNS website. Once the FNS approves your store and provides you with a SNAP permit, get in touch with us to help get your POS ready for EBT payments.
Zenti specializes in EBT merchant account services. You can begin accepting SNAP payments immediately with our EBT payment experts and start welcoming your entire community to shop locally at your store.
The Zenti team is proud to be an EBT merchant services provider.