Frequently Asked Questions


Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)

What is EBT?

Food Stamp benefits are now distributed using a plastic card similar to debit or credit cards. Through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Food Stamp benefits are no longer distributed as coupons, making the issuance of state public assistance faster and easier. Information held on the card's magnetic strip, along with a Personal Identification Number ensures the convenient, rapid and secure transfer of benefits each month.

In Virginia, the EBT card is called the Cardinal Card. By using the Cardinal Card, recipients can access Food Stamp benefits any store displaying the Cardinal Card or Quest sign.

Food Stamps

How Can A Person Apply?

You may apply for food stamps at the local department of social services the same day you request an application, however, you interview may be held later. You may also mail, fax, or e-mail your application.

Applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or General Relief, are considered an application for food stamps, unless you request otherwise.

If all members have applied for or get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may also apply for food stamps at the local Social Security office.

What If A Person Is Not Able To Come In To The Local Department?
An application can be mailed to you. A spouse or any adult member of your household may apply for you. Or, you may name a trusted friend, relative or neighbor to be your authorized representative. This person may:                    

  • Apply for food stamps for your household;
  • Receive a Cardinal Card that can access your food stamp account;
  • Use your food stamp benefits for you at the grocery store;
  • Receive copies of your food stamp notices and correspondence.

How Is A Representative Named?

If you want to name an authorized representative, write a note for that person to take to the local social services department. In the note:

  • List the name, address and phone number of the person you are naming;
  • List the duties you want that person to perform;
  • Sign and date the note. You may also name a representative on the application form.

What is the Work Requirement to Receive Food Stamps?
If you are age 18 to 50 and able to work, you may be subject to a work requirement in order to receive food stamps. This requirement would limit the number of months for which you could receive food stamps to three months in a 36 month period. After you receive food stamps for three months, you may be able to receive three additional months if you complete certain work related requirements. You may be exempt from this work requirement if you are currently working or participating in an approved work program; responsible for the care of a child; pregnant; medically certified as unable to work; meet one of several work registration exemption reasons; or live in an exempt locality.

How Are Food Stamps Issued?

Food stamp benefits are issued electronically. The Case Name will receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card called the Cardinal Card, either through the mail or at the local agency. Each month your household's food stamp allotment will be added to your EBT account. You must put the EBT card through the card scanner at the grocery or give the card to the grocer to access the account. You must also use a secret Personal Identification Number (PIN). The benefits in your EBT account may be carried over from one month to another but if you do not use some of the benefits within 60 days, you may lose access to the benefits.

What Can Be Bought With Food Stamps?
You can use food stamps to buy food or seeds and plants to grow food in your home garden.

You cannot use food stamps to buy:

  • Alcoholic beverages or tobacco;
  • Hot foods ready for immediate consumption or foods to be eaten on the store premises;
  • Pet foods;
  • Soap or paper products or other non-food items.
    You cannot use food stamps to pay back grocery bills.

At the checkout counter, tell the cashier beforehand that you will pay with the Cardinal Card. Depending on the store, you may need to separate the items you can pay for with food stamps from other items.

You will not be charged sales tax on food items or meals purchased with food stamps.

What does “Head Of Household” mean?
You may select any adult member as the head of your household.

If you select either an adult parent of a child any age or an adult who acts as a guardian for a child under age 18, all the adults in the household must agree with your choice for head of household or the agency will choose the head of your household.

If you select any other adult or you do not select a head of household, and someone in your household does not cooperate with an employment and training program or reduces the hours worked or quits a job without good cause, the agency will choose the head of household to be the person who earned the most money from working during the previous two months.

If the person selected as head of household does not cooperate as required with an employment program or reduces the hours worked or quits a job without good cause, your household may not be able to get food stamps for up to 6 months.

You may select the head of your household every time you apply for food stamps. If there is a parent-child combination, you may change your selection whenever someone joins or leaves your household. Tell your worker if you want to change your selection.

What are the Penalties For Food Stamp Program Violations?
You must not give false information or hide information to get food stamps. You must not trade or sell the EBT card or your PIN. You must not allow a retailer to debit your EBT account in exchange for cash. You must not change EBT cards to get food stamps you are not eligible to receive. You must not use food stamps to buy non-food items, such as alcohol, tobacco or paper products. You must not use someone else's food stamps or EBT card for your household.

Anyone intentionally breaking any of these rules could be barred from receiving food stamps for 12 months (1st violation); barred for 24 months (2nd violation); barred permanently (3rd violation); subject to $250,000 fine, imprisoned up to 20 years, or both; suspended for an additional 18 months and further prosecuted under other federal and state laws.

Anyone who intentionally gives false information or hides information about identity or residence to get food stamps in more than one household at the same time could be barred for 10 years.

Anyone convicted of trading food stamps for a controlled substance could be barred from receiving food stamps for 24 months (1st violation) and barred permanently (2nd violation).

Anyone convicted of trading food stamps for firearms, ammunition, or explosive could be barred permanently (1st violation).

Anyone convicted for trading or selling food stamps of $500 or more could be barred permanently.

Anyone convicted of a drug-related felony committed after August 22, 1996, could be barred permanently.

Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) program

What is FAMIS?

The Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) program was created to meet the health care needs of Virginia's uninsured children between the ages of 0 through 18 years, in working families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private health insurance.

Foster Care

How do I become a foster parent?

  • If you are considering foster parenting, you must contact your local department of social services. Each local department has a contact person for foster parents who can provide you with the information you need to make your decision about foster parenting. The local department is responsible for approving foster parents.
  • Local department staff will give you more detailed information about the application process and training. Basic requirements include:
    • Completing an application
    • Consenting to a criminal background check
    • Consenting to a child abuse/neglect record check
    • Providing references
    • Providing medical information
    • Providing employment history
    • Meeting with a social worker to:
      • Discuss the roles and responsibilities of a foster parent
      • Show that your home is a safe environment for your foster child
      • Review state and local foster care requirements
    • Participating in orientation and/or training workshops provided for foster parents
  • The time it takes to gain approval varies, but the approval process usually takes between two and four months.

How Often must Foster parents renew their approval?

Every two years.  In Virginia, you must be approved by a local department of social services to be a foster parent. Private licensed child-placing agencies also can approve foster parents.

Can I adopt a child if I am a foster parent? 
Yes. Many foster parents become adoptive parents of children in their care if the child cannot return home or be placed with a suitable relative.


What are the steps to Adoption?

Step 1. Initial Contact
When you call 1-800-DO-ADOPT, or E-mail the Adoption Resource Exchange of Virginia, you have taken the first step in the adoption process. After a few general questions, you may be referred to a local department of social services, or to a private child placing agency for orientation.

Step 2. Orientation
You will be invited to a meeting to learn more about the types of children waiting for adoptive families and about the adoption process. This may be a group meeting with other families who are interested in adoption, or may be an individual meeting with the agency social worker. Feel free to ask questions. This is a time for you to get some of your questions answered.

Step 3. Application
To apply for adoption services, you must complete an application. You may request the application in person, by telephone, or by mail. Application forms vary. However, most ask questions about income, health and family history. Do not be put off by the personal questions on the application. Complete it, sign it and return it to the agency. The social worker will explain during the home study how the information you provided will help to determine the kind of child that will fit best in your family.

Step 4. Home Study
During the home study, you will talk about your reasons for wanting to adopt and the type of child your family can best parent. The social worker will talk about the special demands of parenting an adopted child. All members of your family will be involved. The home study will be completed through a series of meetings-individual or group. At the conclusion of the home study, you and the social worker will decide whether you are ready to adopt and what type of child you can best parent. Remember, the social worker is not looking for families without problems. The worker is looking for families who have successfully coped with life experiences.

Step 5. Selection
The social worker will show you pictures of available children and tell you about each child. There are also listings of special needs children available on the Internet/Worldwide Web. When you find a child you are interested in, you and the agency together will consider whether your family may be right for this child. Deciding against adopting a particular child will not prevent you from being considered for other children.

Step 6. Placement
The placement process starts with visits between the child and family. The number of visits before actual placement depends on the child's speed in being able to move into a new situation. When the social worker feels that the child is ready to move and that the family is ready to receive the child, arrangements are made for placement in the adoptive home.

 Step 7. Supervision (Post Placement)
After the child is placed in your home, the social worker will visit you at least three times. The visits are to help you and the child adjust to this new situation. It helps you to assume your new role as a parent. This is the time to talk with the worker about any concerns you may have. Initial adjustment concerns are to be expected. Talk about them early on; waiting too long may cause problems later. The Virginia law requires the child to live in your home a minimum of six months and be visited at least three times (or more), before the adoption can be finalized.

 Step 8. Legal Procedures & Finalization
To finalize the adoption, it is best to get an attorney. The attorney will file a petition for adoption with the court. The court will request a report from the agency. The agency sends the report and the judge enters the final order of adoption.

How Long Does Adopting Take?
Adopting a child always requires a waiting period of some duration. When home studies are presented, the custodial agency for the child must assess the strengths of all the interested families and decide which family can best meet the needs of a specific child. The time frame is not predictable and it can be frustrating for families who are ready and prepared to adopt. A prospective parent who has abilities/strengths to meet the needs of a waiting child with special needs may wait nine months, or more.

How Much Does It Cost To Adopt?
There is no charge when you adopt a special needs child in the custody of a local department of social services.

What Kind of Children Are Waiting?

Most are special needs children. This means they are:

  • Six years old and older;
  • Have brothers or sisters they need to be placed with:
  • Have a black, biracial, or other minority heritage;
  • Have physical, mental, or emotional needs.

Is Financial Assistance Available?
Adoption assistance, also called subsidized adoption is a means of providing a money payment and/or services to adoptive parent(s) on behalf of a child with special needs. Eligibility for subsidy is based on the needs of the child. Most children who have special needs are eligible for adoption assistance. When you select a child you are interested in, ask the social worker about the child's eligibility for this assistance to meet his/her special needs.


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