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HomeNewsArchivesDEBIT CARDS REPLACING FOOD STAMP COUPONS

DEBIT CARDS REPLACING FOOD STAMP COUPONS

Oct. 16, 2002 – As of Wednesday in the Virgin Islands, some food stamp recipients were paying for their grocery purchases in the same way that many other shoppers do — with plastic.
In place of the familiar brown paper coupons, new recipients of the federal food subsidy program are getting colorful debit cards they take to the supermarket and hand to the cashier to have payment for purchases deducted from their current food-stamp allotment.
The "Sun, Sand and Sea Card" is part of the Electronic Benefit Transfer program being put into operation by the Human Services Department. Benefits administrator Ermin Boschulte says the cards are being given to new clients over the next two weeks in a pilot program. "This is where we're going to test the system," she said, "so those who sign up today will be able to go to the supermarket and shop for food."
Equipment to utilize the benefit cards has been installed at all food stores participating in the food stamp program in the territory, Boschulte said. As with regular debit cards, each time they are used, the amount of the purchase is deducted from the available balance — in this case, of the client's monthly allotment.
Starting Monday in Christiansted, electronic benefit cards will be distributed to an estimated 4,000 V.I. households already enrolled in the food stamp program. Cards will be distributed next Wednesday to Frederiksted recipients, on Oct. 24 to St. John clients and on Oct. 25 to St. Thomas participants. Educational outreach in the cards' use will include the use of a video.
Since current food-stamp recipients have already received their October allotments, Boschulte said, their debit cards will be activated in the first week of November.
Human Services was recognized by the federal government in June for its efficient handling of food stamp distribution and timely reporting of fraud and abuse. Commissioner Sedonie Halbert expressed confidence on Wednesday that her staff will be able to maintain their record of efficiency as the new way of doing things replaces the old.
"If we were accurate before in determining who should get and who should not because they're not eligible, that should not be a problem," she said.
Halbert said little should change once the plastic cards replace the paper coupons. A big change will come internally, she said — with an end to daily trips to the bank by Human Services agents, accompanied by an armed security guard, to pick up the daily supply of stamps for distribution.
Going to the store with their new debit cards may increase clients' confidence level, Halbert said. "When people are standing in line at the supermarket and pull out their coupons, everyone knows they're getting food stamps," she said. "But now, they just take the card and swipe it. Everybody's swiping cards these days."

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