Rule enforces electronic food stamps

By Oct. 1, 2002, states must have electronic benefits transfer systems in

place as an alternative to delivering food stamp coupons, according to a

final rule published Wednesday.

The rule, which the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service

published in the Federal Register, mandates that state agencies have an

EBT system implemented statewide by October 2002 unless they receive a waiver.

The rule implements the EBT provision in the welfare reform act of 1996.

With EBT systems, food stamp benefits are deposited electronically into

a recipient's account each month. Recipients have either a smart card equipped

with a microprocessor or a plastic card similar to a bank card that gives

them access to their benefits.

As of September, 40 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico were using

EBT in some form to issue food stamp benefits. For example, Pennsylvania

began operating the first EBT demonstration project in 1984. It built a

new system that went statewide in October 1998. In April 1993, Maryland

became the first state to roll out its system statewide.

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