If you participate in the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you will receive monthly payments through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. The needs-tested card functions like a debit card, allowing you to conveniently pay for SNAP-approved purchases at stores and online marketplaces where EBT cards are accepted.
However, you can’t use your EBT card if it is frozen, which could make it difficult to access your monthly SNAP benefits. If you have difficulty accessing your SNAP benefits because of a locked account or card, this article will help you understand how to unfreeze EBT card.
Possible Reasons Your EBT Card Is Frozen
First, it is important to understand why your EBT card could be frozen. This way, you can avoid card or account activities that can result in losing access to your SNAP benefits.
Your SNAP Account Is Dormant
SNAP benefits are disbursed to people needing assistance putting food on the table, meaning the funds are expected to be used often to meet this basic need.
Your EBT card can be taken offline if you don’t use the card for an extended period. Also, your SNAP benefits will not be refilled and may be removed if you don’t use them for nine months.
The exact time limit for your card to be considered dormant will depend on your state. Some states deem unused EBT cards inactive after 60 days, while others have time limits of up to 90 days or more. Visit your state SNAP website or contact the local office for more precise information on this policy.
To avoid your SNAP account or EBT card going dormant, ensure to use it at least once every 30 days. If you no longer need assistance purchasing food, you can cancel your SNAP account online or reach out to your local SNAP office to remove you from the benefits program.
You Repeatedly Entered an Incorrect PIN
Like regular bank cards, you need to create a 4-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) when you receive your EBT card. You must enter your PIN to authorize payment whenever you make SNAP purchases with the card.
Your EBT card is programmed to mark repeated wrong PIN entries as suspicious activity to protect your SNAP funds. The card will be frozen if you enter an incorrect PIN too many times (usually three or four times, depending on your state).
You can avoid this problem by choosing a PIN that’s difficult for others to guess but easy to remember. While you can use any 4-digit number, it is usually best to avoid obvious numbers like birthdays.
If you forget your card PIN, do not guess the number. Instead, call the customer service line for assistance in creating a new PIN.
Your SNAP Account Is Under Investigation
SNAP is a government assistance program for eligible low-income households. The program has specific income and resource limits to ensure only people who meet the requirements can receive monthly payments.
Your EBT card can be frozen if you were not completely honest during your application. Your account will be investigated if the local SNAP office suspects that you provided wrong or false income and resource information.
While you may be able to access your remaining benefits, you won’t receive new payments during the investigation. Your account may be closed permanently if the program determines that you are no longer eligible.
Additionally, SNAP participants must recertify annually to determine eligibility. Your card will be locked or benefits removed from your account if your financial situation has changed since you enrolled in the program.
How to Unfreeze EBT Card
Unlocking your EBT card should not be difficult if your SNAP account is not under investigation. However, reinstating your account can be complicated if it is closed or being investigated.
Here are the various ways to unlock your EBT card:
1. Contact the EBT Customer Service
The most straightforward way to unfreeze or reactivate your EBT card is to call the program’s customer service. Usually, the customer service line is on the back of your card.
Have your EBT card and personal details ready when you call because the representative will need certain information to verify your identity before unfreezing your card.
2. Get Help From Your Local SNAP Office
Another way to unlock your card is by going to the nearest SNAP office to speak to someone in person. Ensure to bring your EBT card and a means to verify your identity (such as a government-issued ID) when you visit the office.
Speak to a representative about your frozen card when you get to your local SNAP office. They should be able to fetch your card activity records to determine why the card is locked and help you reactivate it.
However, unfreezing your card may not be possible right away if your SNAP account is under investigation. You will have to wait for the outcome of the investigation.
3. Unfreeze Your Card From an Online Portal
Many states have online portals where EBT cardholder can access their SNAP accounts. You can do more than check your EBT balance, change your EBT card PIN, or edit your personal information on the portal.
Depending on your state, you may be able to reset your PIN number from the portal if the card is locked because you entered an incorrect PIN too many times. You can reset the PIN number through your SNAP account and regain access to your benefits.
Simply log into the portal and reactivate your card from the SNAP EBT card section. Keep in mind that you may be prompted to use the first option (contacting EBT customer service) if this method cannot be used to unfreeze your card.
Like the online portal, you can unfreeze your EBT card in seconds via a mobile app if your state offers the option.
4. Pay for Items With Your Card
Sometimes, knowing how to unfreeze EBT card doesn’t involve any complex processes. You don’t have to make any calls, go to the SNAP office, or visit a website to reactivate your EBT card. This is especially true if your EBT card is locked due to prolonged inactivity.
In this case, you can reactivate your card by simply purchasing an approved food item using the card. Keep in mind that this may not work in all states.
Replacing Your EBT Card
The funds on a bent or damaged EBT card may become inaccessible, even if you have sufficient balance.
Typically, a damaged EBT card will fail to swipe at check-out. You might be required to manually key or enter your card to process a transaction if your card is physically bad.
Do not hesitate to notify EBT customer service of your damaged card. Also, you can request a replacement card when you notify customer service or reach out to your local district office for a replacement card.
Temporarily Freezing Your EBT Card to Prevent Unauthorized Use
While card freezing is usually considered a problem, it can serve to protect your card from unauthorized use.
EBT cards may look and function like debit cards, but they don’t have certain security features like regular bank cards.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), needs-tested benefits cards for programs like SNAP, Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) benefits, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), do not have guaranteed protections against fund theft or loss.
If you notice suspicious activities on your card, call the EBT customer service number or visit your local SNAP office as quickly as possible to temporarily lock all card activities and protect your remaining benefits.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to freeze your card from a mobile app or cardholder portal. Alternatively, you can call your local Department of Social Services.
However, you must unlock or unfreeze the card before making any qualified purchase. You can unfreeze your EBT card yourself (if your state supports the option) or contact the appropriate department to unlock the card for you.
Tips for Protecting Your EBT Card
In addition to calling the EBT customer service when you notice suspicious activities on your SNAP account, you can checkmate unauthorized activities on your card and protect your benefits with the following tips:
- Never share your EBT card PIN and number with anyone, especially someone outside your household.
- Consider changing your EBT card PIN monthly (particularly before your benefits are paid) to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your SNAP funds.
- Always keep your Social Security Number and other personal information a secret.
- Call your state EBT customer service line as quickly as possible if your card is stolen, lost, or damaged.
Being locked out of your SNAP account can be frustrating, especially when you rely heavily on Food Stamps to provide healthy food for your family.
Knowing how to unfreeze EBT card means you can access your SNAP benefits and purchase nutritious food whenever needed. Remember to protect your card from unauthorized activities and use it at least once monthly to avoid having your SNAP funds locked.