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Bill would require SNAP EBT cards to have microchips to combat ‘skimming’

By 37ci3 Mar7,2024

A U.S. senator from Oregon introduced a bill Thursday that would dramatically increase the security of the credit cards that low-income families use to buy groceries.

The bill comes amid a staggering number of thefts from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants, which contain data on a magnetic stripe on electronic benefit transfer cards that are easy for criminals to clone. using hidden “skimming” devices. Thieves produce duplicate cards that victims use to withdraw SNAP funds.

Skimming is not unique to SNAP EBT cards, but other features such as embedded microchips and contactless payments have long combated this form of electronic theft on consumer credit and debit cards.

No state currently issues chip-enabled SNAP EBT cards, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. Some, such as California, are in the planning stages of switching to chip cards.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden introduced the bipartisan, bicameral bill, first shared with NBC News. If passed, it would direct the USDA to issue updated cybersecurity rules requiring microchips for all SNAP EBT cards for the first time since 2010.

“Families are as vulnerable now as ever to having their SNAP benefits stolen by fraudsters,” Wyden said in a phone interview before the bill was introduced. “This is simply not acceptable for America in 2024.”

Lilia Kondratyuk, a day care teacher and single mother in Lynn, Massachusetts, canceled her SNAP benefits in time for Thanksgiving 2022. When he tried to pay for groceries at the supermarket, he found out that his funds were stolen and discovered that more than that.

Liliya Kondratyuk.
Liliya Kondratyuk.Courtesy Liliya Kondratyuk

“It crushed me,” Kondratyuk said, adding that he had about $200 worth of food in his cart when his card was declined. “I was just embarrassed.”

Kondratyuk eventually received compensation from the state for the stolen funds, but he said the theft caused him months of financial hardship. He feels Thursday’s bill is urgently needed so families, including his own, don’t have to go through the same experience.

“I don’t want to always have that worry in the back of my head,” she said. “Will it all happen again?”

SNAP skimming has increased in recent years. At the end of 2022, Congress authorized states to use federal funds Compensate victims of SNAP skimming in certain cases by September 2024. Millions of dollars worth of stolen SNAP funds it has since been reinstated, but Wyden said that only provided a partial solution.

“It’s helpful, but it just doesn’t address the root of the problem,” he said. “The root of the problem is weak security for SNAP cards.”

Thursday’s bill was introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. and co-sponsored by John Fetterman, D-Pa.

“SNAP is supposed to help someone who is food insecure,” Cassidy told NBC News. “There is no need to help the fraudsters who steal these blessings. It fights fraud while protecting benefits for those who need it most.

Fetterman echoed this, saying it’s “despicable that thieves are targeting vulnerable hungry families with cyber crime scams.”

The House escort bill was introduced by Reps. Andy Kim, DN.J. and Mike Lawler, RN.Y.

Wyden said he hopes the bill will be passed later this year as part of the Farm Bill, a broader piece of legislation that would update and reauthorize federal programs like SNAP. His bill would require states to begin issuing chip-enabled EBT cards within two years.

“If I had my way, it would have happened yesterday,” Wyden said. “There are nuts and bolts issues with the technology that needs to be implemented.”

Anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations endorsed the bill, including the Massachusetts Institute for Legal Reform, a nonprofit organization that has campaigned for compensation for victims in its home state.

Vicky Negus, a policy attorney at the Massachusetts Institute for Legal Reform, praised the bill for adding chip technology to EBT cards as well as supporting SNAP participants. The bill would also require the USDA to issue updated anti-fraud technology regulations every five years to keep up with the security of SNAP credit and debit cards. Additionally, if an EBT card is stolen or cloned by fraudsters, it will require states to issue a replacement card within three days.

“The goal here is to make sure that everyone at the line of inspection has fair protection,” Nejashi said.

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By 37ci3

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