Food Stamp Cards Now Statewide

Food Stamp Cards Now Statewide By KEVIN O'HANLON LINCOLN, Neb. — Paper food stamps are a thing of the past in Nebraska.

Thursday marked the end of the statewide transition from paper food stamps to state-of-the-art Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, which allow recipients to use plastic cards to buy food.

Congress adopted the Federal Food Stamp Act in 1964 to help needy people purchase groceries.

The new cards have helped erase much of the stigma associated with using food stamps at grocery stores. Now, it's difficult to tell if a person is using a credit card, a bank debit card or a food stamp card.

For retailers, it has cut the cost and time needed for handling food stamp coupons.

??With food stamps, we had to stamp them at the end of the day and count them and then write up a separate deposit slip,'' said Lori Lema, manager of Rockbottom Foods in Omaha. ??Now, it just prints up on a little machine and we have all the totals for the day.''

The state sends electronic files daily to Citicorp Electronic Financial Services, which is handling Nebraska's program.

The information includes how much each family is entitled to in food stamps and tracks how much in benefits has been ??spent.''

There also is less fear of benefits being lost or stolen, because the card holder needs a personal identification number to use the card.

The state began phasing the cards in last February to meet an October deadline set by the federal government, said Tom Ryan, who coordinates the program for the state Health and Human Services System.

Nebraska's food stamp recipients also can use their cards in 37 other states.

Nebraska administers about $63 million in food stamp benefits each year. Individuals and families qualify based on income.

Food stamps are available to Nebraskans earning less than 130 percent of poverty level, or $23,00 per year for a family of four.

The federal government pays for the amount of the benefit received, while states pay the costs of determining eligibility and distributing the stamps.

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