States must standardize food stamp systems

States must standardize food stamp systems

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

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

'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).

Recipients in some states 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 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.

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

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