What are Photo EBT cards and who needs to have one?

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2018

In 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a state law to require some of the SNAP and cash assistance recipients to have EBT cards with a photo of the head of household.  M.G.L. Chpt. 18 §2 (B)(k). Due to advocacy by a range of state organizations, the final state law exempts almost 75% of Massachusetts SNAP and cash recipients from the photo EBT rule.

Regardless of what your card looks like, all EBT cardholders and their household members have the same rights when using the EBT card to buy food. 

There are three types of valid EBT in Massachusetts:

Photo EBT Card for “mandatory” (non-exempt) recipients. DTA started issuing in December, 2013.

Photo EBT Card for “mandatory” (non-exempt) recipients. DTA started issuing in December, 2013.

“Valid-without-Photo” issued to exempt applicants, and recipients who need a replacement card. Started December, 2013.

“Valid-without-Photo” issued to exempt applicants, and recipients who need a replacement card. Started December, 2013.

Back side of new photo and non-photo EBT card, states “This card may be used by any household member.”

Back side of new photo and non-photo EBT card, states “This card may be used by any household member.”

Some MA residents still have the traditional blue EBT card if on SNAP before December 2013.These EBT cards remain valid.

Some MA residents still have a blue EBT card if on SNAP before December 2013.These EBT cards remain valid.

Who uses the EBT card, and can retailers look at it?

  • All household members are authorized to use the EBT card at the grocery story. Stores cannot refuse to let a family member shop if not named or pictured on the card. The personal ID number or “PIN” is your electronic signature.
  • Store clerks should not treat SNAP recipients different from other shoppers who use credit or debit cards. Stores should not ask to see the photo EBT card unless it is story policy to inspect ID of all debit or credit card customers.

Who is EXEMPT from having a photo EBT card?

A SNAP head of household does NOT need a photo EBT card if:

  • Age 60 or older
  • Disabled or blind
  • Under age 19
  • Homeless
  • A victim of domestic violence, OR
  • Has a sincerely held religious belief about photo/facial images.

DTA automatically exempts persons they know are age 60 or older, or receiving a disability-based benefit such as SSI or EAEDC. A victim of domestic violence and other persons with disabilities can self-attest to their situation, without having to provide additional verification. DTA also exempts “authorized representatives” who receive a card to help an individual food shop or manage their SNAP case.  See Can someone else apply for me?.

If DTA issued you a photo EBT card but you became exempt, you can get a new EBT card without a photo (e.g. you turn age 60, are disabled or meet another exemption). DTA also should not charge you any replacement fee if you qualify for a “Valid-without-photo” EBT card. 

How and when does DTA issue photo EBT cards?

DTA will provide you with a photo EBT cards in one of two ways:

  • If you have a current Mass Driver License or Mass State ID, DTA should use the photo on file with the Mass Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), or
  • If not, DTA may send you a notice for an EBT photo appointment. After taking the photo, they should hand you the EBT card. 

If you get a notice for a photo EBT appointment, you can reschedule the photo appointment if you have a conflict. You can also go to any DTA office to have your photo taken. DTA cannot hold up or delay or close your SNAP case while scheduling your photo appointment. Appendix C has a flier that explains the rights of cardholders when using an EBT card

Advocacy Reminders:

  • Federal rules protect the right of all authorized members to use the EBT card and to not be discriminated against:  7 C.F.R. §274.7(A), 7 C.F.R. §274.8(b)(5)(iv) and 7 §C.F.R.. 278.2(b)
  • Retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently from other shoppers. A store clerk cannot inspect your EBT photo card unless they routinely ask everyone using credit or debit cards to show a photo ID. The PIN is your electronic signature that protects the card, just like a debit card.  Stores that accept EBT cards cannot set up “SNAP-only” checkout lines or refuse to let you use self-checkout lines.
  • USDA issued regulations requiring states to follow certain rules if implementing photo EBT. (F.R., Vol. 81 # 239, 12/13/16). The federal rules confirm that all household members have the right to use the card and that retailers cannot treat SNAP recipients differently than other customers. For states that elect photo EBT, the rules require states to offer a hardship exemption for individuals who cannot get to a SNAP local office, such as lack of child care or transportation; to issue an EBT card to expedited applicants without delay; and not deny or withhold SNAP to an entire household if the head of household does not comply with photo EBT. 7 C.F.R. 273.8(f)(5)7 C.F.R. 274.8(f)(7).
  • See 2015 Urban Institute report assessing the merits of photo EBT laws, with a focus on Massachusetts and Maine.

Contact MLRI if you have an issue with a photo EBT card.

DTA Policy Guidance:

DTA Online Guide: Cross Programs > EBT > Photo EBT Requirements

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Show DTA Policy Guidance

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