CLASP Comments on SNAP Photo EBT Proposed Rules

By Helly Lee

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often referred to as food stamps) is a critical nutrition program for millions of low-income families and has one of the lowest rates for error and fraud. However, when states opt to require photos on SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, often under the premise of program integrity, it creates additional barriers to nutrition access. For many, the barriers exist in numerous aspects of having to obtain and use a photo EBT card. For example, if individuals are required to go into a state agency to take a photo for the card, they may have to take time off of work to do so, especially if office hours are during the work day. For those without reliable transportation or who live in areas far from where they need to go to take a photo for their EBT card, simply getting to an office to comply with the requirements poses significant barriers.

Obstacles can also arise on the retailer side. Even with photo EBT cards, household members and other caregivers who are not pictured are allowed to use the card to make food purchases. This can cause confusion among retailers who assume that the card can only be used by the person whose picture is on the card. Research has shown that implementing photo EBT cards is costly and does not deter fraud, however, a handful of states have or are considering the option. 

To establish procedures on implementing photo EBT cards, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) published a notice of proposed rulemaking for comment early this year. In the notice, FNS acknowledged that “recent state implementation of the photo EBT card option revealed significant legal and operational complexities and challenges associated with having a photo on the card,” and that guidance is necessary to clarify what states need to do in order to implement the photo EBT option. CLASP, which submitted comments in response to the proposed rules, has long opposed the implementation of photo EBT cards because of the barriers it creates for participants. However, we support the efforts of FNS to create strong guidance for states that chose this option to limit the complications and barriers that SNAP participants may face in those states. Specifically, CLASP provided comments on:

  • Ensuring that states choosing to implement photo EBT cards must continue to meet performance metrics even after implementation, meaning that states should continue to provide timely, accurate, and fair service to SNAP participants.
  • Ensuring that states address how they will reach individuals who already face barriers to access, including those whose primary language is not English, individuals with disabilities, elderly individuals, and people who are experiencing homelessness.
  • Demonstrating that states have sufficient capacity to issue photo EBT cards before they receive authorization from FNS to implement the photo EBT option.
  • Establishing a process to address the needs of those who cannot reach a state office due to a hardship condition, or because they are not within reasonable travel distance of an office.
  • Ensuring that states make every effort to make certain that all members of a household or authorized representatives of a household are able to use the photo EBT cards with a valid PIN, even if their photo is not on the card.
  • Including in their implementation plans, the state’s efforts to make mechanisms to handle complaint calls and questions from clients, retailers and external stakeholders available to English Language Learners, individuals with disabilities, elderly individuals, and others who may need additional assistance.