Can You Use EBT At McDonald’s?

Almost everyone craves McDonald’s once in a while. However, even the Dollar Menu can be a splurge when you’re supporting a family and money is tight. As you pass the golden arches, you’ve probably wondered if you can use EBT at McDonald’s.

The majority of SNAP beneficiaries can’t use their EBT cards to pay for fast food. However, select EBT cardholders who qualify for the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) may be able to use their benefits on fast food in certain states. Those who are houseless, disabled, or elderly can qualify for the RMP. 

Even if you’ve been approved for RMP, the vast majority of fast food restaurants do not accept government financial assistance. For those who qualify, McDonald’s is only available with your EBT benefits at a few select locations in California. 

If you’re receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the first time, you likely have a ton of questions about what options are available to you. In fact, you might even be surprised to learn that the Restaurant Meals Program exists!

Here’s everything you need to know about whether you qualify to use your EBT card for fast food like McDonald’s, and what food you can use your SNAP benefits for instead. 

Do I Qualify to Buy Fast Food With My EBT Card?

Most people who have an EBT card cannot buy fast food, including McDonald’s. 

SNAP benefits differ from state to state, and only a few states have a Restaurant Meals Program. Under this program, SNAP recipients who are experiencing houselessness or disability or who are elderly may be able to buy fast food. In many instances, these people may not have the ability to cook for themselves or access to a reliable kitchen to cook in.

Before you make a trip to a local fast food restaurant, check with your SNAP benefits representative to see if you can use the Restaurant Meals Program. You can also reach out to your local government official to request that they start a Restaurant Meals Program in your state.

For those who qualify for the RMP, you may be able to answer your McDonald’s craving in California. However, if your local McDonald’s doesn’t offer EBT payment options, El Pollo Loco, Fat Burger, or Carl’s Jr are delicious alternatives. California offers the most robust options of restaurants where you can use EBT.

Other states like Arizona or Florida allow RMP-eligible SNAP recipients in certain countries to use EBT at restaurants like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, or Subway. 

Meanwhile, some states like Illinois are changing their restaurant redemption options with more recent legislation.

RMP-eligible people can use the SNAP Retailer Locator tool to see what options are covered in their state. Even if you’ve already checked before, you may have new restaurant options available to you!

If I Don’t Qualify to Use EBT at McDonald’s, What Can I Use it For?

Even if you don’t qualify for RMP and your benefits and financial assistance from the government can’t get you a Big Mac, there are many other ways to use your EBT card. 

Your EBT card is intended to supplement your family’s monthly food budget. For that reason, government financial aid is often reserved for groceries. Though you may still need to buy your McDonald’s with cash, there are still other food options you can access using your EBT card.

While your EBT card may look like a normal debit card, there are some limitations with what you can buy with it. You can use your food stamp benefits to buy almost any food intended to be cooked or eaten at home, plus seeds and plants to grow your own food. That includes fruits and vegetables, grains, meat and fish, and other options available at a local grocery store or corner market.

Some new SNAP recipients may worry if they don’t have great cooking skills. However, you can use your SNAP benefits on frozen meals or ready-to-cook meals. Even if you’re new to cooking or don’t have a kitchen, many options can be cooked with a microwave or hot plate. 

You may have heard that you can’t get snack foods like chips or soda with your SNAP benefits. Thankfully, that’s not true. While you may not be able to get a meal from McDonald’s, you can buy sugary drinks and make a tasty burger from home. 

That doesn’t mean everything at your local store is covered, though. SNAP benefits can’t be used on most hot food, alcohol, or non-food items like pet food or paper products. 

Why Doesn’t My State Allow Me to Use My EBT Card at Restaurants?

While each state manages its own SNAP benefits, only some states have chosen to allow select SNAP users to access fast food. Even if you live in a state that allows EBT for fast food, if you don’t qualify for the RMP, your EBT payment will be rejected.

Federally-funded EBT benefits are intended to be used to supplement a family’s monthly food budget. Theoretically, SNAP benefits are meant to be used for groceries, while additional income can be spent on the occasional fast food meal.

In reality, other expenses may make SNAP benefits your family’s only option to pay for food. This can pose problems when parents have long commutes, childcare responsibilities, and limited time or energy to cook for their families.

Fast food is often a convenient option for a quick meal during the work day. However, if you receive SNAP benefits, planning your meals will likely take extra time and effort. Aside from cooking when you arrive home, you may also need to prepare lunches and dinners for yourself ahead of time to eat between shifts or on your commute.

Even if your EBT benefits allow you to buy enough raw ingredients, finding the energy to plan meals and cook can be draining. While fast food does offer a handy way to feed your family quickly, it can also blow through your monthly food budget. Meal prepping quick, easy meals for your family can help you take advantage of your benefits without having to prepare food every day. 

Can I Use My EBT Card to Buy Food Online?

While you may not be able to use your leftover EBT funds on fast food, you can instead stock up on frozen foods and quick meals to support your family if you’re too tired to cook.

But sometimes, the real struggle is getting to the store on your one day off. If your family runs out of food halfway through the week, it can be tough to carve out time to go shopping. 

Thankfully, in 2020, many states began allowing families to use their EBT cards to order food online. Some stores and locations allow SNAP users to get grocery deliveries directly to your home. Otherwise, you can quickly pick up your groceries from the store or a designated delivery spot on your way home.

Buying food online can be particularly helpful for families who are attending school or work remotely. Even if you aren’t at home, another member of your family may be able to order food and receive it before your work day is over. This offers a huge relief for anyone who is immunocompromised and can’t risk going to the grocery store, too. 

What if Government Financial Support Isn’t Enough to Feed My Family?

With a growing family, you may find yourself burning through your SNAP benefits each month. If your kids are learning remotely and no longer receiving lunches at school, that financial help from the government may be dwindling faster than usual. 

In some areas, neighborhood schools may be providing day time meals even while students are learning remotely. While your child’s school may not be offering meal pickup, another location nearby could be offering meals for kids in the area. This may help alleviate some of the extra food you need to buy with your SNAP benefits.

Using phone apps like Fresh EBT can help you track your balance, plan your meals, and create a food budget. Couponing apps like Ibotta, Shopkick, or Checkout 51 can help you earn money back from food purchases, too.

Many SNAP recipients may also qualify to receive food from food banks, too. A nearby food pantry or soup kitchen may be able to provide support to help you make it to next month.

While You May Not Get Fast Food, EBT Offers Other Benefits

Even if you’re not able to use EBT for McDonald’s, there may be other uses for your EBT card that can benefit your family and save you money. You may be able to use your EBT card for everything from discounted internet services and Amazon prime access to museum memberships, free college classes, and more.

If you qualify for EBT, you may also qualify for free wireless service, too. The Lifeline phone program offers free monthly phone minutes, unlimited text messaging, and a data plan so you can have a phone you can count on.

Add more money to your food budget by cutting out your cell phone payment. See if you qualify and apply today.