September 17, 2009
ELECTRONIC BENEFITS TRANSFER, USE OF WELFARE FUNDS, AND DRUG TESTING OF WELFARE RECIPIENTS
By: Robin K. Cohen, Principal Analyst
You asked for an explanation of the state's electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program for welfare recipients, including whether Department of Social Services (DSS) clients can convert benefits into cash. You also asked if a program that tests welfare recipients for drug use still exists.
Since 1997, DSS' EBT program has provided paperless benefits to its public assistance clients. Currently, people receiving Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), State-Administered General Assistance (SAGA) cash, State Supplement, and the Child Support Disregard (parents receiving TFA receive a portion of any child support collected on their behalf) can receive their benefits via EBT. (Clients of all programs except SNAP have the option of receiving benefits through direct deposit to a bank account.) As under the old paper system, clients can convert all of their cash benefits into paper currency. SNAP benefits stay on the client's EBT card and generally can be used only for food.
With EBT, all of a client's benefits (many receive cash and food assistance) are issued onto a card that has the client's name and unique number. Clients receive their benefits on the same day every month, either the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. Clients can use any NYCE cash machine (ATM) or stores that have machines with the Quest mark on them to withdraw cash up to the amount available in his or her cash account. Clients can use this money in any way they see fit.
To redeem SNAP benefits, clients use point-of-sale machines located in more than 1,700 state retailers authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to accept SNAP benefits. The amount of food purchased is deducted from the client's balance; no change is ever given.
Clients receive two free cash ATM transactions per month, after which they pay a fee; no limits exist for free transactions for food or cash purchases or cash back with purchases. A toll-free number provides information about where the card can be used and food and cash balances.
The state has never performed drug testing on welfare recipients. But state law limits the circumstance under which cash and SNAP benefits can be provided to drug felons. Specifically, anyone convicted of a state or federal offense on or after August 22, 1996 that is (1) classified as a felony and (2) has as an element the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance is eligible for benefits only if he or she has completed a court-imposed sentence. Individuals also qualify if they are satisfactorily on probation or are in the process of completing a court-imposed sentence for mandatory participation in a substance abuse treatment or testing program (CGS § 17b-112).
A list of allowable uses of SNAP benefits can be found at www.usda.gov.