Yesterday, I wrote a letter.  And got a helpful reply.  And for just a moment felt like I was advocating for myself and for other people with some hope for change.

Original Message:

To Whom It May Concern:

I shop at Whole Foods on occasion because you have, by far, the best selection of bulk foods in the Greater Portland Area.  I generally enjoy my shopping experience at Whole Foods, but was disappointed by your notice concerning EBT cards at the register when I checked out yesterday.  The notice instructs any SNAP beneficiary to inform the cashier that they are using an EBT card before s/he swipes the card.  In essence, this requires the customer to declare to not only the cashier but to any fellow customers in earshot that s/he is on public assistance.

I am an AmeriCorps*VISTA working in South Portland.  I live on a small stipend that covers my housing, utilities, car expenses and other bills but is never be enough for me to buy groceries.  I am therefore dependent on SNAP for my monthly food needs.  Personally, I’m not ashamed about the fact that I utilize SNAP; it just sort of comes with the territory.  However, I know that using SNAP can still create a sense of shame in people who use public assistance.  I think that people still feel stigmatized at times and worry that they’ll be perceived as taking advantage of “the system.”  Having to announce to the cashier that you are swiping an EBT could then make the food stamp beneficiary very uncomfortable and might very well deter a person from shopping at Whole Foods in the future.  That would be a pity in my opinion; people on public assistance ought to feel comfortable to shop just like anyone else normally would and empowered to buy foods that are healthy and cost efficient.

I realize that your policy is probably just a product of your technology network, but I would love to see the Portland Whole Foods store look into ways to make EBT usage more discreet.  I know that both Hannaford’s and Shaw’s networks allow a person to swipe the card without announcing it.  If it would be possible for Whole Foods to do something similar, I think it would provide a better and more dignified shopping experience for all of your customers.  Both rich and poor.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Heather Bennett




Thanks for taking the time to contact us about your concern with the need of EBT card users to inform their cashier of their method of payment.

You are correct in that our register requires the cashier to manually enter in the payment type and EBT transactions will not correctly process unless we do so. This is not a protocol that we are very happy following and we have expressed to our regional coordinators on many occasions that we would like for our registers to be reprogrammed to be able to identify and process electronic payments without customer notification.

For now, asking that our customers quietly alert us before the sale starts has proved much less intrusive than having to figure it out in the middle of the sale and then ask them to re-swipe their card.

Our intent is to provide all of our customers with an enjoyable and positive experience in every way, including checkout, and I agree that our situation is less than ideal and has potential to make some customers uncomfortable.

I really appreciate your feedback and will be forwarding it to my regional coordinator as well.

At this point I can only reassure you that I am aware of this issue, I share your feelings on it and will continue to communicate with our regional office, making it a priority to resolve.


Laura Hathaway

Customer Service Team Leader

Whole Foods Market. Portland Maine


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