Swapping stamps for cards across the country

County residents using the electronic system can now buy groceries in any state.
Sunday, July 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Missouri hasn’t seen a food “stamp” in six years.

Taking government assistance out of the paper era and into the age of technology, the paper coupons that were once redeemable for food products have given way to Electronic Benefit Transfer. EBT works similarly to a debit card, allowing users to “swipe” for their grocery items.

The last stage of implementation for the program was accomplished in May 1998 for Missouri citizens. However, the national transition to the electronic system was officially complete June 22.

But what does this mean for the 14,000-plus Boone county residents who are already using EBT cards?

“Now if users move to another state or are in a different area for some time, they can use the same EBT card wherever they go,” said Jodi Cornwell, assistant deputy director of the Missouri Family Support Division, Department of Social Services.

Another national program is also raising concerns for Missouri’s EBT system.

The new Medicare prescription discount card will have no effect on food stamp benefits. However, Cornwell said the Missouri Department of Social Services is reviewing and complying with guidelines of the federal Food and Nutrition Services agency. The guidelines state that any discounts and subsidies households receive as a result of using the card should “be treated as standard medical expenses to be used in determining the household’s medical expense deduction.”

The EBT system has been well-received by both program participants and grocers.

“EBT has helped us increase efficiency in the store because we don’t have to count and sort the food stamps anymore,” said Bill Chrisco, store manager of the Schnucks on Forum Boulevard. “It seems to work well for the customer, too, because it provides them with balance information and is pretty secure.”

In addition, to the added efficiency, the EBT system provides something paper never could: a sense of privacy.

“Since EBT is intended to work in the same way as a debit card would, it does allow people to blend in better and increases confidentiality,” Cornwell said.

In addition to food stamps, temporary wage assistance has also moved into the world of EBT.

Those receiving temporary assistance can have benefits deposited directly into a checking account, or they can access the benefits with the EBT card.

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