Food Stamp Program is nearly all paperless

Almost all food stamp benefits for low-income individuals and families are now issued electronically, completing a 20-year transition from paper coupons, Agriculture Department secretary Ann Veneman said today.

'With this technology, low-income families are getting service faster and easier,' she said. Electronic transactions improve accountability and reduce fraud because they can be tracked more accurately than paper coupons.

About 95 percent of food stamp recipients access their benefits by using a magnetic stripe card and a PIN. The electronic benefit transfer system, introduced in l984, lets recipients authorize the transfer of their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer to pay for products.

USDA officials gathered today in Atlanta for the destruction of the remaining federal inventory of paper food stamps.

In the past three months, USDA has added a prescreening feature to its food stamp site to help users determine if they are eligible to receive food stamps. It is not an application for food stamps, but helps users decide whether to apply and about how much they would receive.

Several states, including New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, are developing and testing online food stamp services that let users apply for the program, check their application status, scan verifying documents and provide access to other nutrition programs for which they could be eligible.

Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are testing pilots aimed at the elderly and disabled to combine and simplify applying for Supplemental Security Income and food stamp benefits. A computer program is used to integrate food stamp rules with data from the Social Security Administration.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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