Food Stamp Bill Passes House of Representatives

Jan 31, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC- Today the House of Representatives passed S. 1733, the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Interoperability and Portability Act.  This bill requires states to conform their EBT standards to a national, uniform operating system that the states themselves choose.

"The pace of technology in America is astounding, and the government needs to keep up with it," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX).  "EBT interoperability allows food stamp recipients maximum flexibility in managing their tight budgets, and it helps the federal government cut down on waste and abuse of the system."

Under the electronic benefits transfer system, recipients receive their benefits via the equivalent of an ATM card.  The EBT card can be used at point-of-sale machines located at supermarket checkout registers, just as one would use a credit or debit card to purchase goods.  Under the old paper food stamp system, recipients could redeem their food coupons in any authorized store anywhere in the country.  Unfortunately, as states move to electronic delivery of benefits, this is not the case.

Currently, different states operate on different systems, which can lead to interstate food stamp fraud and prevent recipients from purchasing goods anywhere but their home state.  For instance, $32 million in food stamp abuse was uncovered because the State of Missouri has an EBT system which is compatible with the systems in neighboring states.  The system found that some recipients were receiving food stamps in multiple states -- a discovery that would have been nearly impossible to make if the states were all using different EBT systems.

With a national system in place, it will be easier for states to cut down on food stamp fraud and abuse because the computer system can electronically cross reference recipients and track illegal use.  Also, the bill allows food stamp beneficiaries to redeem their benefits in any eligible store regardless of location without requiring supermarkets on state borders to invest in multiple point of sale machines to process EBT transactions.

"Across the country we are finding that people live in one state and shop in another for a variety of reasons. One reason is convenience, another is the cost of goods. The supermarket industry is a very competitive industry, as every week stores advertise specials in newspaper ads across the country.  Customers paying with every type of tender except EBT have the flexibility to shop where they choose. Why shouldn't recipients of food assistance benefits be allowed to stretch their dollars in the same way that other consumers do, without regard to state borders?" stated Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry. "My bill is very simple. It returns the convenience to the beneficiaries of the program, gives the states the guidance they are looking for, and provides another tool in the fight against fraud, waste and abuse in the Food Stamp Program."

"There is currently a lack of uniformity among state EBT Systems, negatively affecting the delivery of assistance to food stamp recipients, many of which lose benefits when they travel from state to state," said Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX). "Hopefully, national uniformity among state EBT Systems will mean that program participants will no longer encounter problems with the use of their EBT cards beyond the borders of the issuing state."