Panda Express, with over 2,300 locations and $3 billion in annual revenue, is the largest family-owned and operated American-Chinese dining franchise in the United States. It is renowned for its signature dish, the Original Orange Chicken, which features crispy chicken immersed in a sweet and tangy special orange sauce. Other crowd-pleasers at Panda Express include Kung Pao Chicken, Honey Walnut Shrimp, and Chow Mein.
Panda Express has a four-decade-long history in California, dating back to its founding in Glendale in 1983. Currently, Rosemead in southern California serves as the company’s headquarters. Panda Express is frequently found at food courts in malls and airports and offers an impressive yet affordable selection for eating out or ordering in. It is one of the most sought-after locations serving American-Chinese cuisine to people on a tight budget. Yet, are CalFresh recipients welcomed at Panda?
Does Panda Express Take CalFresh EBT in California?
Unfortunately, Panda Express does not accept CalFresh EBT food benefits as payment for any orders (in-store or online) in California.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines prevent CalFresh recipients from using their EBT food benefits at restaurants that sell hot food or food meant for immediate consumption. However, restaurants that are authorized to participate in the CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) are exempt from these restrictions.
They can sell hot and prepared food to qualifying CalFresh recipients. Since Panda Express is not an RMP-approved vendor, it can not serve hot meals to CalFresh recipients.
Those who qualify for the RMP may be able to satisfy their fast food cravings in California. Even if your local Panda Express does not offer EBT payment options, California has a variety of delicious alternatives where you can use your EBT card.
Some of these include:
- Carl Jr.
- Burger King
- Jack in the Box
- El Pollo Loco
- Pizza Hut
- Domino’s Pizza
Keep in mind that not all locations of the above-mentioned fast food chains accept EBT payments. Their RMP participation will vary depending on their area and county. All the stores that accept EBT will display a Restaurant Meals Program sign on their windows or doors.
Why Does Panda Express Not Take EBT in California?
According to the USDA, if your State participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Restaurant Meals Program, you can use your EBT card to purchase hot and ready-to-eat food at restaurants. Nevertheless, there are more variables at play.
California has one of the most robust restaurant meal programs in the country. And the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) leaves it to each county to determine which restaurants receive authorization for the RMP. But, it is disappointing that only 16 out of 58 counties have joined the initiative. Moreover, many fast food restaurants in the participating counties, such as Panda Express, are not even RMP-approved.
A restaurant must follow strict standards mandated by the USDA to be RMP-approved. Many fast foods are considered unhealthy by these standards. In addition, RMP authorization requires a restaurant vendor to go through a lengthy approval process that involves a lot of paperwork. The CDSS and USDA Food and Nutrition Service must approve the restaurant, which could take up to 120 days.
Another factor to consider is that only the most disadvantaged individuals among the CalFresh recipients— the elderly, the disabled, their spouses, or the homeless— are qualified for the RMP. Such individuals typically do not actively contribute to the revenue of a fast-food restaurant. As a result, many restaurant vendors avoid dealing with the complicated RMP authorization process.
Does Panda Express Take EBT Cash in California?
You will not be able to use your EBT card at a Panda Express outlet to pay for your meal, even if you receive cash benefits through a financial assistance program such as CalWORKS. Instead, you can withdraw your cash benefits from a nearby ATM or a POS machine at a retail store and use the cash to pay for your hot meal at Panda Express.
Get EBT Cash from an ATM
To withdraw your EBT cash from a nearby ATM, follow these simple steps:
- Insert or swipe your EBT card into an ATM near you.
- Input your four-digit EBT PIN on the keypad. Then, press the Enter key.
- Choose the “Withdraw Cash” option and then select “Checking.” The terms may vary for different ATMs.
- Input the amount you want to withdraw in whole dollar figures, for instance, $10 or $100. Generally, tens and twenties are the lowest amounts of currency accepted.
- Some ATMs impose a surcharge. The ATM screen will display the surcharge amount if any. If you want to proceed, choose “Continue.” Else “Cancel” if you do not wish to pay the extra fee and cancel the transaction.
- If you continue the transaction, the ATM will issue your cash along with a receipt.
- Keep your receipt safe as a record of your account balance.
Get EBT Cash from a POS Machine
To withdraw your EBT cash from a Point-of-Sale (POS) Machine at a nearby retail store, follow these simple steps:
- Inquire the cashier if you can withdraw your EBT cash benefits at the store and whether there is a fee. Else, look for a Quest® Mark in the store. The Quest® Mark is displayed on store windows/doors, POS machines, or at check-out to indicate that you can use your EBT card at that location.
- Give your EBT card to the cashier or swipe it through the POS machine.
- Input your four-digit PIN for your EBT card on the keypad. The screen will display **** in place of the entered numbers.
- Next, press the Enter key.
- Tell the cashier how much cash you wish to take out.
- The clerk will enter the amount of cash you want to withdraw. Verify the amount and if it is correct, press the Ok key.
- The cashier will give you a printed receipt that will include the name and address of the retailer, the amount of your cash withdrawal, and the new balance of your EBT cash account.
- Keep your receipt safe so you can check your new account balance when you go shopping later.
Note: Remember that you can not withdraw cash from your EBT food benefits account.
What Payment Methods Does Panda Express Accept?
Panda Express accepts cash and card payments in all its restaurant locations across California. It takes debit cards as well as credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express (Amex).
Further, Panda Express offers various contactless payment options for in-store and online orders, including Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and PayPal. You can also purchase gift cards from the Panda Express website and use them to pay for all of your orders. A Panda Express Gift Card is a plastic or digital gift card (also called an eGift card) pre-loaded with money.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
What is the CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program?
The CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) is a federal initiative that aims to assist the most vulnerable populations who are liable to the danger of chronic hunger. This program helps those who either find it difficult to cook meals themselves or lack the resources to do so. Hence, RMP enables disadvantaged people to use their CalFresh food benefits to purchase hot and ready-to-eat meals from participating restaurants.
In California, San Francisco County was the first to implement the RMP as a pilot program in the early 2000s. Since then, it has expanded into a statewide initiative as of September 1, 2021.
For more information, contact your local social services county office.
Do I qualify for the Restaurant Meals Program?
You can qualify for the CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program if you are a CalFresh recipient with a valid EBT card. Also, fall under one of the following categories:
- adults aged 60 or older,
- people with disabilities,
- spouses of individuals from the above categories, or
- homeless people.
Does my county have a Restaurant Meals Program?
CalFresh recipients who meet the RMP eligibility requirements can use their food and cash benefits to purchase hot and ready-to-eat meals. They can do so at any participating restaurant in California, even if it is out of the county where they live.
Currently, the CalFresh RMP is active in 16 out of 58 counties in California, as listed below:
- Los Angeles
- San Bernardino
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- San Luis Obispo
- San Mateo
- Santa Clara
- Santa Cruz
How do I find EBT accepting fast food restaurants near me?
Use any of the following methods to find EBT-accepting fast food restaurants near you:
- Look for the Restaurant Meals Program sign in a store. All participating restaurants display the sign on their doors or windows.
- Use the EBT Map Finder to locate a nearby fast food restaurant that accepts EBT. On the search tab, you can type in the address or choose a location on the map. Use filters like “Restaurants,” “Food,” or “Cash” to narrow down your search results.
- Refer to the list of RMP-approved restaurants by county issued by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). This list is updated quarterly.
- Contact your local county office and ask for a list of restaurants participating in the RMP in your area.
Is there a limit for EBT cash withdrawal?
No, there is no limit for EBT cash withdrawal. However, you can only withdraw cash from an ATM four times each month without incurring a transaction fee. A transaction fee is an additional charge you may need to pay when withdrawing EBT cash from an ATM. After four cash withdrawals, an eighty-cent transaction fee will be deducted from your EBT account for each successive ATM withdrawal. The four cash withdrawals do not include your purchases or cash back purchases. You will never have to pay a transaction fee for using your card at a Point-of-Sale (POS).
Apart from a transaction fee, some retailers and banks may charge you a surcharge as a service fee for using your EBT card to withdraw cash benefits. Therefore, always look for a notification about the surcharge on the ATM screen or near the POS machine before withdrawing your cash. If you do not wish to pay the surcharge, cancel your transaction and go to a different location.
How to check my EBT account balance?
The best way to keep a record of your EBT account balances is by holding on to the receipt from your last purchase. Alternatively, you can check your EBT balances using these methods:
- Call the EBT Customer Service number at 1-877-328-9677 (TTY: 1-800-735-2929). It is a 24/7, free service available in ten languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, and Farsi.
- • Visit the EBT Client Website to check your EBT food and cash benefit account balances.
- • You can check your EBT cash account balance at an ATM or a POS machine. Although, at an ATM, you will need to pay a 25-cent fee for it.
- You can also check your EBT food benefit account balance at a POS machine but not at an ATM.
In California, Panda Express does not accept EBT cards as payment. Regardless, if you receive CalWORKS cash benefits, you can withdraw them from a local ATM or retail store and use the cash to pay for your hot meals at Panda Express.
Panda Express takes cash and debit/credit cards at all its California locations. Furthermore, it accepts contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay and Google Pay for in-store and online orders. You can also pay for your food using a Panda Express Gift Card.
Even if your local Panda Express does not accept EBT, California has many other delectable options where you can satiate your fast food cravings. You can pay for your food at fast food restaurants like Carl Jr., Burger King, KFC, and Jack in the Box using your EBT card.