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Updated on Monday, January 13, 2020
The government distributes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — also known as food stamps — via Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT) cards. The Fresh EBT app allows recipients of SNAP benefits to use a smartphone to check the balance on their EBT card. The Fresh EBT app has more than 2 million users and works with food stamp programs in every state.
What is the Fresh EBT app?
Until recently, people who receive SNAP benefits could only check their monthly benefit balance by calling a hotline — or keep a running tally of their grocery store receipts. More than 42 million people receive SNAP benefits, and 26% of low-income Americans rely on cell phones as their main internet connection.
In 2015, software startup Propel launched the Fresh EBT app, providing a quick and easy way for people who receive SNAP benefits to check their EBT balance. Users can also check their benefits from other federal programs, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The free app is available for both iOS and Android and can be downloaded from the iTunes app store and the Google Play site.
Fresh EBT lets people keep up with the benefits available to them and also lets them see what they’ve purchased and where they bought it. The app also shows nearby stores and farmer’s markets that accept food stamps — although it doesn’t indicate which items are eligible to be purchased with funds from federal assistance programs.
How Fresh EBT works
The Fresh EBT app is linked to a user’s card via their state of residence’s EBT portal. Every time someone uses the card at a grocery store or farmer’s market, the total adjusts and users can check their remaining balance on the app.
When you log in, you’ll see a “recommended weekly budget” right underneath your EBT balance. This can help you plan your monthly EBT balance ahead of time, so that you don’t run out of money before the month is over. If you stick to this number each week, you’ll have enough EBT money to buy food for the whole month.
Other Fresh EBT features include free affordable and nutritious recipes and digital coupons you can use to make your EBT dollars stretch even further. Plus, as the average monthly SNAP benefit for one person is $134, Propel has partnerships with local and national nonprofits like Feeding America and Double Up Food Bucks to help people who find their SNAP benefits aren’t enough to get them through the month.
The app also shows the locations of nearby food pantries, offers coupons for participating retailers — users have accessed close to $15 million in savings so far — and provides access to healthy and inexpensive recipes.
The Fresh EBT app even touts that it offers job postings. You can see a list of jobs available in your area, along with a link that’ll take you to that job posting’s webpage. From there, you can get more information about the job and even apply directly for it.
How to sign up for Fresh EBT app
To use the Fresh EBT app, you must provide sensitive personal information like your Social Security number, although Propel reports that the information is encrypted. You also will need to have your EBT card number and PIN handy when you sign up. However, Propel notes that it does not store EBT card numbers or PINs on their servers, for extra security.
Although the Fresh EBT app is available to all U.S. states and territories, there have been problems in the past for some users who live in one of the 25 states where the food stamp program is managed by the government contractor Conduent.
Some users in these states reported that their balance data was unavailable for large stretches. And while Conduent does offer its own balance checking app, ConnectEBT, it’s only available in seven states on the Google Play store — Arkansas, Maryland, Maine, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. If you’re using an iPhone or iPad it’s even worse: the app is only available in three states: Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah. But while people can always check their balances through the hotline if they have any Fresh EBT app troubles, it’s also a good idea to hang on to grocery receipts as a backup.
Pros and cons of Fresh EBT
Among the common complaints about the Fresh EBT app are discussions about difficulties in connecting, or getting locked out of an account and having trouble signing back in. Positive reviews note the ease and speed of the app in comparison to calling the hotline to check a balance. Many users also like the coupons, the ability to see past purchases, and the recipes.
Pros of Fresh EBT
- Provides a great way to check updated food stamp benefit balances: You can see your balance instantly, without having to call up the EBT hotline or finding your balance at the bottom of the receipt from your last food purchase.
- Maps nearby food pantries and stores that accept food stamps: You can search on a map to see nearby stores and farmer’s markets where you can use your food stamp benefits. You can also find nearby food pantries, food stamp offices, and WIC clinics.
- Offers digital coupons: You can download coupons for specific food items at specific stores right through the app. This can also help you make the most of your EBT benefits.
- Special offers: In the “All Offers” section of the app, you can find other helpful money-saving resources for lower-income families. For example, you can get more information about discounted Amazon Prime membership, or access to lower-cost cell phone services.
- Available in every state, with versions in English or Spanish: No matter which of these languages you speak — you can use Fresh EBT. And unlike some other EBT balance-checking apps, Fresh EBT is available no matter which state you live in.
Cons of Fresh EBT
- Can have some bugs and loading issues: Since each state manages its own EBT program, there are a lot of different technologies that the Fresh EBT app has to navigate. Sometimes that can cause some difficulties with the app. For example, Conduent is a company that manages EBT benefit information in many states and it’s had some troubles in keeping up with Fresh EBT, causing some users to not see their current balance in the app for a period of time.
- Does not provide a list of items that can be purchased with food stamps: The app can tell you which stores allow you to use your EBT benefits, but it isn’t able to tell you how much items cost there. Some stores can charge a higher price than others.
Who should use Fresh EBT?
Anyone who regularly uses SNAP food stamp benefits through an EBT card, owns a smartphone, and wants an easy way to keep track of their benefits will likely find the Fresh EBT app useful.
The app saves you money by offering coupons and directing users to stores offering specials. The app is also a one-stop shop for other information about early childhood education programs, local doctors, mental/health substance abuse programs, heating assistance and more.
All told, the Fresh EBT app is an efficient and data-driven way for people to get the most out of their SNAP benefits.