JPMorgan Chase & Co. donated $1 million in aid to the ongoing disaster relief efforts in earthquake ravaged Haiti. Other prepaid card industry businesses have also given hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given the current crisis, it seemed appropriate to revisit an article originally published in the Sept. 17, 2008, edition of SellingPrepaid E-Magazine.
Entitled Prepaid cards help in disaster relief, the story focused on how a prepaid card program implemented by J.P. Morgan, the treasury arm of JPMorgan Chase, helped victims of Hurricane Ike, which hit the U.S.'s Gulf Coast on Sept. 13, 2008.
Since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the American Red Cross, working with J.P. Morgan, has had a prepaid card program in place that allows for efficient distribution of financial assistance to disaster victims.
According to Michael Brackney, Director of Service Delivery Development at the Red Cross, card distribution is part of the individual assistance phase of relief operations.
The first phase instituted by the Red Cross and other organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides for victims' basic needs, such as food and shelter. It is also a time when authorities assess the damage to communities.
But once basic utilities, such as water and power, are restored to disaster affected areas, relief efforts can focus on individuals, Brackney said. At that point, Red Cross case workers sit down with individual families and assess their situations.
"When power comes back on in some areas and some people can leave the shelters and go home, it will become clearer who can or who does or does not have a home to go to, who is going to have longer term needs," Brackney said.
"And once Red Cross workers establish identity, eligibility, how they were affected and what their individual needs are, then assistance is provided in accordance with that," he added.
It is here that prepaid cards enter the mix. Instead of giving victims clothing or other supplies, the Red Cross can issue them prepaid cards for making purchases.
"What we want is to give people the emergency assistance they need or the means to acquire it," Brackney said. "For example, if they need medicine or a certain size of clothing, it's better and easier and less expensive for us to give them the means" to get it themselves.
Since 1999, J.P. Morgan has issued prepaid debit cards for use in emergency relief situations. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita magnified the importance of debit and electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards as a part of the United States' emergency response infrastructure.
J.P. Morgan issued over 414,000 emergency food stamp benefit EBT cards in Louisiana for victims of those hurricanes. J.P. Morgan also converted Louisiana unemployment checks to debit cards, which allowed over 300,000 cards to be issued to unemployed Louisianans to access their funds even if they had relocated to other states after Hurricane Katrina.
Back in 2001, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, J.P. Morgan said it restored EBT services to over 1,200 small retailers in Lower Manhattan after the attacks destroyed telecommunication switches in the World Trade Center, shutting off the retailers' ability to accept EBT cards. J.P. Morgan coordinated with retailers and the government to keep benefits flowing.
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