If you’ve recently applied for food stamps, you might be wondering if you can use your benefits at your favorite restaurants. Does Panda Express accept EBT?
Panda Express generally does not accept payment via EBT debit card. Whether your local fast food restaurant accepts EBT depends on whether your state or county runs a Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) through their SNAP program.
What is a Restaurant Meals Program? What can you buy with your EBT card? I’ll answer these questions and more.
What is an RMP?
A Restaurant Meal Program is a food stamp program which allows qualifying individuals to purchase fast food meals at participating restaurants using their SNAP benefits.
This is especially beneficial to people who don’t have proper food storage or preparation methods at their disposal, or who live in a food desert without nearby grocery store options.
While the USDA oversees food stamp benefits at the federal level, they give authorization to states and counties for direct administration.
This is why your state or county might not have a Restaurant Meal Program…yet.
Eligibility for the RMP depends on a few factors. Every member of the household must be one or more of the following:
- Elderly (60 years of age or older)
- Disabled (receiving disability or blindness payments, or receiving disability retirement benefits from a government agency because of a permanent disability)
- A spouse of a SNAP recipient eligible for the RMP
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How Can I Tell If a Restaurant is Enrolled in the RMP?
Usually, a restaurant that accepts EBT or SNAP benefits will have a sign somewhere in their building. These signs often feature the rounded fork and knife logo associated with EBT and the Restaurant Meals Program.
There are also restaurants which have a sign that simply says “we accept SNAP” or “we accept EBT.”
It’s a safe bet that these restaurants are part of the RMP, too.
Which States Operate an RMP?
The number of states which have a Restaurant Meals Program is growing. If you don’t live in one of these states, keep your eye out for news about your local food stamps program.
Right now, these are the states which run an RMP:
- California (17 counties including Los Angeles)
- Illinois (Cook, Dewitt, and Franklin counties only)
- New York
- Rhode Island (Providence and Washington Counties Only)
Massachusetts is also rolling out an RMP, which will be available for enrollment in late 2022.
Which Other Restaurants Don’t Accept EBT?
Even in states with an RMP, some fast food chains still don’t accept payment through food stamps. Along with Panda Express, these include:
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- Einstein Bros. Bagels
- Five Guys
- In-N-Out Burger
- Krispy Kreme
- Long John Silver’s
- Panera Bread
- Qdoba Mexican Grill
- Shake Shack
- Tim Hortons
Which Restaurant Chains Accept EBT?
In states with an RMP, there are a few restaurant chains which accept EBT or SNAP debit cards. These include:
- Burger King
- Carl’s Jr
- Church’s Chicken
- Dairy Queen
- Del Taco
- El Pollo Loco
- Jack in the Box
- Jamba Juice
- Papa John’s
- Papa Murphy’s
- Pizza Hut
- Rally’s Hamburgers
- Taco Bell
You should still check whether the restaurant in your area takes EBT before going there.
How Do I Use My EBT Card at a Restaurant?
If the restaurant is part of the RMP, it should have authorization via its POS system to process your EBT debit card. Once prompted, insert or swipe your debit card. Enter your PIN number for your EBT card.
If your EBT card has a balance, you should see the remaining balance on your receipt. Some states offer unlimited SNAP benefits with no minimum purchase on their EBT cards.
Check your state’s EBT card limits and rules.
What if My State Doesn’t Have an RMP?
If your state doesn’t have a Restaurant Meal Program yet, you can still buy eligible food items from grocery stores.
Some states even allow you to buy food from farmers markets using your SNAP benefits. Unfortunately, there will be exclusions.
Most states allow these purchases with EBT:
- Breads and cereals
- Fruits and vegetables, canned or fresh
- Meats, fish, and poultry
- Dairy products (cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, etc.)
- Seeds and plants to grow your own food
Items generally excluded from SNAP eligibility include:
- Pet food
- Paper products
- Cigarettes and tobacco
- Other Household Supplies
- Food that will be eaten in the store
- Hot food or meals
Here’s a video on how to use your EBT card at a grocery store.
How Do I Apply for SNAP Benefits?
If you think you might be eligible to receive SNAP benefits, you’ll have to fill out your state’s application for them.
Each state has their own different form, usually available through the department of health. Many states now let you apply online. If they reject your application, you usually can appeal the decision.
Panda Express is one restaurant chain that doesn’t accept payment via SNAP or EBT benefits, even in states and counties with a Restaurant Meals Program.
My article includes lists of other restaurant chains that don’t, as well as many that do. If your state doesn’t offer an RMP as part of its food stamps benefits, it may soon.
The list of states which offer this addition is growing every year.
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