Friday, October 30, 2009
Arguably, we could have gotten to this point sooner, cheaper and easier and new indications from Washington D.C., signal an accelerated movement on other benefit programs such as unemployment and WIC. The lessons of the EBT past and the applicability to new programs will be handled by many, but regardless of these efforts, one thing continues to drive the effort: the needs of the recipient.
Is it not the numerous intangible benefits that we need to consider along with the efficiencies, fraud reduction, ease of use, audit capabilities, etc. as we continue to look at new and improve programs and delivery? Here is a scene from around 1989/1990 that illustrates the importance of these programs.
In or around 1989/1990 when many states were just beginning to examine and roll-out programs for food stamp automation and moving to electronic delivery, I set-up
live, user group sessions—one-way mirrors and all. The comments speak for themselves:
“Look, I have a new ATM card like everybody else!”
“I don’t have to dig and find those stamps anymore.”
“I didn’t have to find that SIGN over the one aisle where I could use my stamps.”
“My neighbors don’t look at me funny in the grocer anymore.”
As I heard these and many other comments, all one had to do was see the look in their eyes. One of acceptance, attitudinal shift, and a true feeling of inclusiveness. If we could but bottle these looks and distribute them to the various industry players as we move into more and diverse programs, perhaps a new spirit of working across and breaking down program barriers would develop.
We can only hope to remember to “look for the look in their eyes” before we leap into expensive and potentially unworkable solutions and forgetting one of the key needs of the recipient: removing the Scarlet “W” off their foreheads.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Please consider attending the EBT Next Generation Conference in New Orleans this year. If you are able to join us, please add the extra hour to your day on Monday and participate in this bonus workshop where we promise to make that extra hour worth your time!
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EBT The Next Generation will take place October 8-10 at the Inter-Continental Hotel in New Orleans, La. It will feature:
- 4 workshops
- 4 plenary sessions
- 3 roundtable sessions
- 10 concurrent sessions
- 3 bonus sessions
- 2 social activities
There is still time to register. For more information or to register, click here.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The highlights of the governor's proposal include:
- Allowing Minnesotans for the first time to buy health insurance across state lines. As in many states a small number of insurers control a large part of the health insurance market. In Minnesota three insurers issue 80 percent of the policies. Many people think that allowing out-of-state insurers to sell policies in Minnesota will break this triopoly, leading to more competition and lower premiums.
- Creating an Interstate Health Insurance Compact that would create regulatory standards for selling policies across state lines.
- Mandating that the state's MinnesotaCare and Medicaid programs price care on quality and cost.
But most interesting to us is the proposal to include EBT in the healthcare reform package. Gov. Pawlenty is proposing creation of a higher-deductible insurance policy that would include a state subsidy deposited to an EBT account. It's unclear whether the existing Minnesota EBT card would be used, or whether the state would create a new healthcare EBT card.
Several states, including New York and Pennsylvania already use the EBT benefits card for Medicaid eligibility determination. But this would be the first time that an EBT card was used to actually transfer benefits to the card holder.
State lawmakers will be asked to consider the governor's healthcare proposal during its 2010 term.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The changes will allow WIC participants to adopt the healthy eating patterns being promoted for everyone by USDA, Amanda Hovis of the Texas Dept. of State Health Services tells Channel 8 in Austin.
She also says that about half of kids born in Texas are on WIC.
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For more information on how states are handling the implementation of the new WIC food package, mark your calendar for Breakout Session 7: Implementing the New WIC Food Package, 10:15 to 11:30 on Tuesday November 10th at EBT The Next Generation. To register for the conference or to check the agenda, click here.
Monday, October 5, 2009
And the vehicle proposed for providing that assistance is--electronic benefits transfer.
NASDA wants USDA to take excess pork, dairy and poultry inventories off the market through commodity purchases and make the products available to the public through various feeding programs like school lunch and SNAP.
Under the plan SNAP shoppers would receive additional benefits to purchase meat and dairy products through retail food stores, NASDA president Ed Kee tells the Sussex Countian newspaper of Delaware.
Here's the kicker: SNAP shoppers would receive an extra EBT card to cover the additional allotment, says Mr. Kee, who also serves as the First State's secretary of agriculture.
If NASDA's planned "protein supplement" comes to pass it will mark a milestone--the first time EBT technology has been extended to nutrition programs outside of SNAP and WIC.
That will truly mark the beginning of EBT's Next Generation.
For more information on where EBT is headed, attend this year's EBT The Next Generation conference Nov. 8-10 in New Orleans. For the latest agenda news or to register, click here.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Today there are advantages to implementing electronic benefits over paper vouchers for WIC. And there is debate in the WIC community over card technologies: Offline vs. Online. Offline utilizes a smart card, a plastic card with an embedded microchip. These cards store all the information for the participant to obtain benefits and redeem at retailers with POS devices capable of reading the chip.
On the other hand, online utilizes a magnetic stripe card similar to a traditional credit or debit card. These cards access an online database where the participant’s benefits are redeemed through either the retailers existing cash register system or a dedicated terminal.
Both Online and Offline implementations are in operation today. WIC agencies have the opportunity to assess both technologies to decide which is best for their environment. Below are 7 considerations to take into account when evaluating online v. offline technology:
The use of online or offline technology within a State for WIC EBT should be a rational business decision by the State that takes into account the State’s requirements, technology direction, stakeholder input, and a cost/benefit analysis.
- FNS does not endorse or require a State to use either online or offline technology. Specifically, FNS has chosen to stay technology neutral and let states decide which technology to use. FNS’ only requirement is that once fully implemented, WIC EBT must by payable through the State’s administrative (NSA) grant (e.g., self-sustaining), and not require additional FNS funding for operations.
- Michigan WIC EBT project is no longer a pilot, but is statewide; and has been shown to be cost-effective and sustainable. Consequently there are both online and offline projects that have demonstrated cost-effectiveness and sustainability.
- Standards have been developed under the auspices of Accredited Standards Committee X9 for both online and offline WIC EBT. All of the existing WIC EBT projects are following these standards.
- Interoperability, meaning that a WIC EBT card issued by one State can be used at a retailer in another State, does not exist for the WIC program. This is because States contract directly with retailers to provide WIC benefits, which is unlike the SNAP (Food Stamp) program where FNS authorizes retailers to accept SNAP benefits.
- There are substantial costs in implementing either an online or offline WIC EBT project. The Texas WIC EBT project subsidized software development to support WIC EBT for a number of the retailer front-ends, and paid per lane subsidy for smart card readers for WIC authorized retailers integrating WIC EBT into their existing front-ends. Because of the efforts of Texas WIC, the major POS manufacturers now support offline WIC EBT. The same scenario is being played out for online WIC EBT, where Michigan and Kentucky are providing the leadership and direction in supporting the building of a POS infrastructure for online transactions. Future states implementing WIC EBT will be able to leverage the work done by these pioneer states.
- However most retailers chose to utilize a third party processor (TPP) to acquire and route all of their electronic transactions (e.g., credit, debit, SNAP). There is a benefit to these retailers to utilize a TPP and only deal with one settlement and one reconciliation file. It is thought that retailers will chose to route WIC EBT transaction the same as they do SNAP transactions. But this is a business decision, not a requirement. Retailers can chose to route directly to the EBT processor and not pay any fees.
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For a further presentation of online and offline WIC EBT issues, be sure to attend Breakout Session 3: Under the Hood-a Side-by-Side Comparison of WIC EBT Programs Currently Operating, November 9, 3:45 p.m. at the EBT The Next Generation conference in New Orleans. For more information or to register, click here.