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Yet another state goes live with EBT payment technology

Yet another state goes live with EBT payment technology for the WIC program

In April of 2018 the State of Arkansas began converting its Woman, Infants and Children nutrition program away from paper benefits checks in favor of electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, technology. 

This is a project that Chaddsford Planning work on in the planning phase, assisting the EBT planning contractor, Burger Carroll and Associates. It is gratifying to see the State and its EBT processing contractor, Solutran, get the EBT system off the ground.

EBT is more efficient for the state, beneficiaries, and food retailers  who vend the food to the EBT cardholders. Shopping with a pile of WIC checks is inefficient and stigmatizing for program beneficiaries. Retailers incur the labor and banking costs to handle and account for thousands of WiIC checks each month. States also incur the costs of printing, issuing and accounting for the checks. Under EBT these check processing costs go away for taxpayers.

To support its WIC beneficiaries, Arkansas has chosen online “smart card” EBT technology. When states migrate their WIC benefit distribution from paper checks to EBT they can choose either of two technologies: online EBT (similar to a banking debit card) or offline EBT (the beneficiary cards carry a microcomputer chip which holds the large amount of data required for the WIC program) The microcomputer chip may also be more secure than the magnetic strip on an offline card.

There are advantages and drawbacks to each technology. However, experience has shown that both EBT technologies are far superior to the traditional benefit distribution method of printing, distributing, negotiating, and settling thousands of checks every month.

Congress has mandated that by 2020 all states must replace their WIC check operations with an EBT system. As of April 2018, about half of all states, territories, and tribal authorities, have, like Arkansas,  already complied with the Congressional mandate. Another handful are in the process of implementing EBT. Several others are in the process of rolling out or piloting a WIC EBT system. A few are still planning for EBT.