Mobile Wallets to Boost Convenience for EBT Recipients
By Brian Dugan, FIS
What benefits do you see from mobile wallets for EBT?
More than 43 million people in the U.S. receive food assistance. From SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to WIC (Women, Children, and Infants) to school lunch programs and more, the U.S. GAO (General Accountability Office) says the federal government spends roughly $100 billion dollars every year to ensure families in need can purchase healthy food.
To most efficiently distribute assistance, as well as to mitigate fraud, funds are currently distributed via EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards. But cards can be easily lost and replacing them can be a major inconvenience for a family in a vulnerable position.
Fortunately, mobile wallets may be able to boost convenience and further streamline the process of distributing benefits.
Why Do Consumers Need an EBT App?
In many states, food assistance recipients initially must visit a local office to apply for a benefits card and, if they lose it, they must return to the local office. If a card is lost outside office hours, a family may have to wait to once again purchase food. What if the consumer lives in a place like South Dakota where around 100,000 people get benefits, but there are very few benefits offices so the “local” office may be 50 miles away? How do you get there without a car? Can you afford the gas? A mobile wallet for EBT eliminates this issue because there is no physical card to replace.
Consumers also can learn to manage their funds more easily with a mobile wallet. They will be able to easily track what they are spending monthly. They won’t face the frustration of being routed through the IVR (Interactive Voice Recognition) at the call center just to check a balance. They also won’t have to pull out the physical EBT card, which carries a social stigma for many users.
New Reach for Retailers, Fight Fraud & More
Retailers who serve food assistance recipients—the majority of big grocers—will have a vehicle for delivering deals and promotions to SNAP and WIC customers using a mobile wallet. For example, retailers could apply analytics to determine when someone’s benefits will arrive and push messages to customers based on what they typically buy— e.g., a special on milk or baby food.
Currently, EBT fraud occurs when physical cards are sold to dishonest merchants at a discount. Although EBT card fraud is low—between 1 and 2 percent, according to the GAO—a mobile wallet virtually eliminates fraud because there is no card to sell.
Mobile wallets for EBT will support more convenient access to benefits for people who often have accessibility problems and help people optimize the limited funds they receive. Already, 2 million people who receive food assistance use their mobile devices to check balances, which indicates that there is a large population of potential early adopters for this innovation.
Brian Dugan is senior vice president, emerging commerce division executive, for FIS. He has overall responsibility for all prepaid, loyalty and EBT businesses in FIS. Most recently he worked as the general manager of Prepaid EBT, where he doubled the size of the business. This article originally appeared on FIS’s Payments Leader blog. Brian can be reached at email@example.com.
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