EBT cards: The great debate - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

EBT cards: The great debate

When situations like Saturday's food stamp system malfunction take place, it sheds light on a program that has many Americans divided on the effectiveness of the program.

SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamps Program, is a federal government program that provides food assistance to low-income individuals and families in the United States.

A great stigma is associated with the SNAP program which has led to many non-recipients holding a negative opinion as to how the program works and who receives the benefits.

On Saturday, October 12, Xerox, the EBT card vendor says that the company experienced a technical issue that affected food stamp recipients in 17 states.  For several hours, EBT cards were not able to be used and many shoppers were turned away. 

Then came the reports of shelves in Walmart stores in Springhill and Mansfield, LA being cleared Saturday night, when the stores allowed purchases on EBT cards even though they were not showing limits.

When the system went back online, several carts overflowing with food were left abandoned when shoppers realized their actual balance would register.  One woman was detained when she rang up a bill for more than $700 worth of food but only had a balance of $0.49 on her EBT card.

This incident showed that there are definitely opportunists who are willing to try and beat the system but in comparison to the number of recipients who were affected, it was a small percentage.

The incident led to the age-old debate over the character and circumstances of most food stamp recipients.

For example, many Americans believe that the majority of SNAP benefits go towards people who could be working.  According to the program, more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly and the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed.

To the surprise of naysayers, it is reported that at least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings.   At the same time, it is reported that only 10% of SNAP households receive cash welfare benefits, with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.

Here's other data gathered by the SNAP program to decipher facts from myths:

  • According to demographic data, 43% of SNAP participants are white, 33% are African-American, 19% are Hispanic, 2% are Asian, and 2% are Native American.
     
  • SNAP beneficiaries are accused of cheating the system by receiving greater benefits than would befit their income status or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash. In reality, fraud within the SNAP system is extremely low. With the introduction of the EBT cards, most opportunities for fraud have been removed, and an electronic trail now exists to facilitate the tracing abuses in the system.
     
  • SNAP benefits can be used to purchase all food products, not including: beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco; any nonfood items; vitamins and medicines; foods that will be eaten in the store; or hot foods.
     
  • For most healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 50 (without children), SNAP benefits are limited to a 3-month period, at which point the recipient will have to submit a renewal application. Most households under the SNAP program receive benefits for a 6-month period before requiring renewal. Benefit periods can range from 1 month to 3 years.

So although there are some exceptions, the data indicates that the SNAP program is helping a lot of families in need of food assistance.

Copyright 2013 WOIO. All rights reserved.

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