E-debit card reduces food stamp errors

The Agriculture Department has cut $1.4 billion in improper payments over five years from its Food Stamp program by adopting an electronic benefits card, and aligning state and federal benefit criteria.

USDA’s erroneous payments are at a record low 5.88 percent, said Kate Coler, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management. Agriculture is one of the few departments that have dramatically reduced their improper payments.

To do so, Agriculture transformed its food stamp benefits to electronic debit transactions for use at grocery retailers. The debit cards enable the department to track funds and ensure the identity of users, Coler said.

“As states streamlined eligibility and criteria for payments, it helped to bring down erroneous payments,” she said. The 2002 Farm Bill also allowed for simplified reporting requirements and aligning of food stamp criteria with state welfare and federal Medicaid programs.

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