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Published: Thursday, 2/14/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Ohio readies new electronic cards for its 800,000 famililes that use food stamps statewide

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ohio began distributing food assistance via electronic cards in 1997. Ohio began distributing food assistance via electronic cards in 1997.
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Food stamp recipients in Ohio will be receiving new electronic benefit cards because of a change in the company the state hires to operate and manage the debit cards clients use when shopping at grocery stores.

More than 800,000 families are enrolled in the program statewide, according to the most recent available data, from August. In Lucas County, more than 46,000 households are enrolled.

Starting July 1, J.P. Morgan Electronic Financial Services will operate and manage the Ohio electronic benefit transfer system that supports the Ohio Direction Card. It is used by households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps.

Households receiving welfare cash assistance — about 72,000 families statewide — through Ohio Works First also will receive new cards.

The new cards will look different, but the benefits and use of the card won’t change, state officials say.

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services officials said clients should make sure their address is up to date so they will receive their new cards, but shouldn’t anticipate any changes in how their benefits work.

“In terms of the day-to-day functions of the system, there should be very little change,” said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Job and Family Services.

The date when families will receive new cards has not been finalized. The switch should save taxpayer dollars, Mr. Johnson said. The department now pays 89 cents per household per month for the cards. The average number of cases is 870,000, making the average monthly cost $774,300.

Under the new contract, the cost per case will drop to 53 cents per month. Assuming the same number of cases, the average monthly cost will drop to about $461,100 for a savings of more than $3.7 million a year. The state will be able to access information on card usage more easily, facilitating fraud detection, Mr. Johnson said.

In addition, Ohio Works First families who use the card will be able to receive monthly statements, use online bill pay and transfers, and receive alerts for low balance and new deposits.

Retailers who accept the cards have been notified of the upcoming change and given instructions how to return their electronic benefit transfer card readers.

Ohio began distributing food assistance via electronic cards in 1997 and cash assistance electronically in 2009.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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