I'd like to interupt our series about CalFresh for a minute to back up and explain all the different names and acronyms. Even people who work on issues surrounding the federal nutrition program sometimes get confused, so here's how it works:
A couple of years ago, the USDA renamed what used to be the food stamp program. They felt that "food stamps" had gained a very negative perception and because the program is about providing adequate nutrition to people who need it, they wanted to rebrand the program to try to end the stigma. At the federal level, the program is now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). As the name suggests, it is designed to supplement other funds to purchase healthy food.
When USDA changed the name at the federal level, they also gave the states the ability to create a name for the program at the state level. Each state administers its own program, so this made sense. California took a long time to decide on a name, create a logo, and release it publicly, so for about a year, the program was called SNAP in California before changing to CalFresh, it's current name.
To summarize: What used to be called food stamps is now called SNAP at the federal level and CalFresh benefits in California.
So where does EBT fit in?
CalFresh benefits are delivered onto what is essentially a debit card. In California, it's called the Golden State Advantage card. On a specific day each month, a new month's worth of benefits are deposited onto the card by the state and the CalFresh recipient can spend down those funds over the course of the month. So CalFresh (and other) benefits are delivered electronically.
When someone uses their card, they are making an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), so many people call those cards "EBT cards". When you see a sign in a store saying, "We accept EBT", it means that the store has been authorized to accept government benefits electronically and has the correct hardware and software to process an Electronic Benefits Transfer.
If you sometimes pay for groceries with a bank-issued debit or credit card, you may have seen the EBT option when choosing which method you will use to pay. It's important to know that someone using an EBT card is not necessarily using CalFresh. Other benefits, such as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and some forms of disability benefits, are also delivered on the same Golden State Advantage card and are unrestricted funds in terms of what they can purchase. CalFresh benefits cannot be used to purchase non-food items and in supermarkets where they scan each item's bar code, the computer automatically categorizes each items as CalFresh eligible or ineligible and the grocery totals are separated as CalFresh vs. other payment.