Electronic Food Stamps Coming To Ohio

Commentary by Lynn Williams

     The 1996 federal welfare law requires all states to have the EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card by 2002. Ohio is starting to implement this requirement. In Hamilton County, food stamp recipients will be required to get their "Ohio Direction Card" sometime between January and July of 1998. Required, that is, if they want to continue receiving food assistance.

     When a recipient is required to make the changeover, she will receive a notice in the mail of the training date. If she can’t make that date, she can reschedule. Some Saturday trainings will be available. All new food stamp applicants will automatically be enrolled in training and receive their Ohio Direction Card.

     Each recipient will select three grocery stores where she can "load" her benefits each month. When she first gets her card, she will have to wait 72 hours (3 days) before she can use it. If she tries to use it earlier than this, the card will "lock" so that it will have to be reserviced again by the Welfare department. She will need to call the 24-Hour Helpline, not her caseworker.

     When she gets her card, she will decide on five numbers to use on the EBT machine to access her benefits. This is her "PIN" number. The idea behind this is that it will make it harder to for her food "stamps" to be stolen. She alone (and anyone else whom she authorizes) will know the PIN combination.

     The EBT machine will state how much she has in her benefits "account" when she dials in her PIN number. It is recommended to also save food stamp receipts from stores, which will record the amount currently available to use.

     If, at any time, the card becomes "locked", she will need to go back down to the Welfare Department to have her card serviced. She must then wait another 72 hours to use her card again! Cards can become "locked" if the wrong PIN number is used three times in a row.

     The Ohio Direction Card can ONLY be used in Ohio, and only in counties that are currently EBT card ready. You will not be able to use it across the border in Kentucky. You will be out of luck if you work in Kentucky and live in Ohio, and rely on food "stamps" for your meals. You will be out of luck if you travel to other states in the country, especially if you will be gone for any great length of time. It is possible that your benefits can be exchanged for food stamps, but this will be permitted only after you call the Help-Line and explain in great detail why you need this special assistance. It is not likely that this will be allowed too many times without drawing down a full-fledged investigation of your household and your travel destination.

     All groceries that currently accept food stamps are given the option of having the EBT machine installed in their store. Stores that have this will have a sign posted. On the sign will be a lighthouse, with the words "Ohio Direction Card". In large stores, some check-out lanes will also have this sign to indicate which lanes food stamp recipients can use. We are hopeful that food stamp recipients will not be singled out and further stigmatized by this system.

     There is also concern that some outdoor venders who sell fresh produce, lacking electricity, will not have access to the machine. These venders offer highly nutritious produce, and food stamp recipients should have access to it.

     We also have concerns that people with poor eyesight will no be able to use the card. We have been assured that anyone with this disability will be permitted to stay on food stamps. If they are denied this right, they may request a hearing. They will have a right to keep their food stamps, and all efforts must be made to ensure they do!

     The Federal government appears to be particularly eager to require that the EBT system be used throughout the country. We can only wonder what kinds of corporate interests are invested in this major change. Who is going to be making huge profits with the government’s blessing? Eventually, all government assistance programs are expected to use the electronic transfer system. Let’s just hope the computer systems don’t got into overload and massively break down.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 25