RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia is scheduled in October to join the other 41 states using electronic debit cards to access shoppers' food stamp allotments, and the state's retailers are looking forward to a relatively seamless transition, according to Greg TenEyck, director of public affairs for Safeway's Landover, Md.-based Eastern division, which operates stores in Virginia, Maryland and Washington.
"Any change presents a challenge, but as customers and store personnel become more comfortable with the process, we see this as a great benefit for everyone. It is just another part of our high-tech revolution," explained TenEyck, who was familiar with the Maryland conversion.
A pioneer in the process, Maryland was the first state to adopt the program statewide in 1993 with a card called the Independence Card.
The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 requires adoption of electronic benefits transfer by all food stamp programs (which are managed by the states but use federal money) by October 2002.
EBT allows a recipient to authorize transfer of government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account for products received and eliminates the cumbersome processes required by the paper food stamps. EBT is expected to simplify this process, speed it up and help cut down on fraud, according to Dale Masten, president of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association. "In addition, it should also relieve some of the embarrassment suffered by food stamp recipients. The stigma is removed, and clerks have an easier time with no paper coupons to worry about," Masten pointed out.
The program is scheduled to begin with a three-month pilot program in Fairfax and Warren counties in northern Virginia. Statewide implementation is expected to be completed by July 2002 -- three months before the federal deadline.