States must standardize food stamps

States must standardize food stamps

By Shruti Dat' and

Claire E. House

GCN Staff

A new federal law mandating interoperability among state systems that distribute food stamp credits will let recipients access the credits nationwide.

The Electronic Benefit Transfer Interoperability and Portability Act of 2000, which requires states to standardize electronic food stamp distribution, became law in February.

'It means that they can use their debit card like you and I can use our debit card' at retailers across the country, said Helena Sims, senior director for public-private partnerships at the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA).

Some recipients have been limited to using state-specific systems. Standardization helps not only benefits recipients when they travel but also those who live near state borders, Sims said.

The law calls for the federal Agriculture Department to develop regulations based on 'the standard of interoperability and portability used by a majority of state agencies,' referring to NACHA's Quest Operating Rules.

Twenty-five states, the District of Columbia and one county already follow or are committed to complying with the Quest rules.

NACHA's EBT Council developed the rules in 1997 in cooperation with USDA, which licenses retailers to accept food stamps [GCN/State & Local, June 1999, Page 29].

The Quest Operation Rules allow for distribution of both food stamp and cash welfare benefits through the same commercial networks that handle credit- and debit-card transactions.

The new law is the second EBT-related amendment to the Food Stamp Act of 1977. A 1996 amendment requires states to eliminate paper stamps and distribute food stamps via EBT by 2002.

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