A Thing
The Green SheetGreen Sheet

The Green Sheet Online Edition

May 13, 2024 • Issue 24:05:01

The continuing tech transformation of EBT

By Elie Y. Katz
National Retail Solutions (NRS)

Before the introduction of electronic benefit transfer (EBT), benefits such as food stamps were distributed through paper checks and vouchers. This method posed numerous challenges, including a high risk of fraud, the potential for loss or theft, and general inefficiency in the distribution and redemption process. The need for a more secure, efficient and streamlined system led to the rise of EBT.

EBT technology revolutionized how benefits were distributed by electronically managing the transfer of government aid to individuals. This system reduced fraud, minimized administrative costs, and improved accessibility for recipients. The pilot programs for EBT began in the late 1980s, and widespread adoption across the United States was completed by the late 1990s, marking a significant shift in the management of public assistance programs.


EBT is utilized for various assistance programs, each with distinct eligibility criteria. The most common is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which bases eligibility on income level, household size and employment status. These criteria are designed to ensure fairness and equity in the distribution of benefits. To qualify for SNAP, applicants must meet specific income thresholds, which vary depending on the number of people in the household.

Other programs using EBT include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which has its own requirements and is aimed at helping families achieve self-sufficiency. Understanding the diverse eligibility requirements is crucial for individuals seeking assistance, as it determines their access to the benefits provided through EBT systems.

Where the money comes from

The federal government primarily funds EBT benefits, particularly programs like SNAP. These funds are allocated by the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that eligible individuals and families can afford the nutrition they need.

In some instances, state governments may also supplement federal funds, especially for programs like TANF, which can have a state-specific component. This additional funding from state governments helps to ensure that the needs of local communities are met.

The financial resources for these programs are regularly reviewed and reauthorized, with legislation such as the Farm Bill playing a pivotal role. The Farm Bill determines the budget and policy direction for SNAP and related assistance programs, ensuring their continuity and adaptation to meet the changing needs of the population they serve.

EBT cards and POS systems

EBT cards, similar to debit cards, are issued to eligible individuals. These cards are then used by recipients to access their benefits, with the added security of a personal identification number (PIN).

The PIN ensures that only the authorized cardholder can access the funds, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorized use. The core of these transactions happens through POS systems in retail stores equipped to handle EBT payments, providing an additional layer of security. These measures are in place to reassure users about the safety of their benefits.

These POS systems communicate with the EBT network to authorize and complete transactions, ensuring funds transfer from the government to the merchant. This process, which includes the use of a PIN, streamlines the shopping experience for EBT recipients. It integrates them into the broader retail environment, making purchasing food and essentials as seamless as possible for those utilizing public assistance programs.

Future of POS technology in EBT

Looking ahead, potential technological advancements could further integrate EBT systems into the digital payments landscape. For example, integrating EBT payments with mobile wallets could allow for contactless payments, enhancing convenience and security for users.

Additionally, biometric verification, such as fingerprint scans, could add another layer of security, ensuring that the intended recipients use their benefits. Moreover, the development of mobile apps dedicated to managing EBT accounts could give users real-time access to their balance transaction history and even track their purchases.

Such technological innovations would streamline the process for users and pave the way for a more efficient and secure system for managing and utilizing EBT benefits, which would reflect a significant shift toward a more digital-first approach in public assistance programs, enhancing user convenience and security. end of article

Elie Y. Katz is founder, president and CEO at National Retail Solutions (NRS), https://nrsplus.com. Contact him by phone at 201-715-5179 or by email at ekatz@nrsplus.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

Prev Next

Current Issue

View Archives
View Flipbook

Table of Contents

Insights and Expertise
Company Profile
New Products
A Thing