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

We are in the process of updating the SNAP Advocacy Guide, so some of the information is no longer current.  In the meantime, you can read or download a pdf of the 2022 guide from www.masslegalservices.org/FoodStampSNAPAdvocacyGuide

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed January 2020

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 over 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 basically two types of valid EBT cards in Massachusetts:


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

Photo EBT Card for “mandatory” (non-exempt) recipients. 

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

“Valid-without-Photo” issued to exempt  recipients 


The back of each card states: “This card may be used by any household member.” All household members are authorized to use the EBT card at the grocery story. The PIN is your electronic signature, just like a debit card. Here are your customer rights:

  • Stores cannot refuse to let a household member use the card because their name or picture is not on the EBT card.
  • Stores that accept EBT cards cannot set up “SNAP-only” checkout lines or refuse to let you use self-checkout lines.
  • Store clerks should not treat SNAP recipients differently from other shoppers who use credit or debit cards.
  • Stores should not ask to see the photo EBT card unless it is store policy to inspect ID of all debit or credit card customers.

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).

Households EXEMPT from photo EBT card

You do not need a photo EBT card if you are the head of household and:

  • Age 60 or older
  • Disabled or blind
  • Under age 19
  • Homeless
  • A victim of domestic violence
  • A person with a sincerely held religious belief.
  • An authorized representative transacting SNAP on behalf of a household.

DTA automatically exempts persons age 60 or older, or receiving a disability-based benefit (such as SSI or EAEDC). Victims of domestic violence and other persons with disabilities can self-attest to their situation, without having to provide additional verification.

DTA also does not issue photo EBT cards for adults applying on behalf of eligible dependents but not applying for themselves, such as a non-citizen applying on behalf of eligible children.

If you have a photo EBT card but you later became exempt from the photo EBT rules (for example, you turn age 60 or become disabled), DTA will issue you a new EBT card without a photo and not charge you any replacement fee. You can qualify for a “Valid-without-photo” EBT card.

How photo EBT cards are issued

If you have a current Mass Driver License or Mass State ID, DTA typically uses the RMV photo for the EBT card. If you do not have an RMV photo, DTA may send you a notice for an EBT photo 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.
Important: DTA cannot hold up or delay or close your SNAP case while scheduling your photo appointment. DTA should also take hardship (such as lack of access to transportation) into account.

Advocacy Reminders

  • Contact MLRI if you have an issue with a photo EBT card. For more information about photo EBT in MA, go to our webpage: Masslegalservices.org/photoEBT


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


Show DTA Policy Guidance

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