A few years ago, someone stole my card information and took over $100. You’d assume the bank or credit card company would reimburse that fraud, right?
Not for me, unfortunately. The skimmed card number was for my Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which allows me to purchase food for my family through the federal SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps).
Unlike credit and debit cards, EBT cards are not protected. Most of the time, if they’re stolen we just lose that money — along with the food we were going to buy for our families with it.
In December, Congress passed a new law so that victims of benefits theft can finally get reimbursed — but only if their benefits are stolen between October 2022 and September 2024. That leaves me out, and it’s hardly reassuring about the future.
If you have a credit or debit card, you may also take for granted that you can check your purchase history and balance online. You expect to be notified when there are suspicious charges.
Unfortunately, EBT users can’t count on this either. Since it’s hard to check our balances, we may not know if the month’s benefits have been loaded — or if money’s been stolen — until a cashier at the checkout line tells us there’s no cash on our card. Imagine that feeling.
I never planned to be on SNAP. But when restaurants took a big hit during the pandemic, my hours as a waitress were slashed — just as the landlord spiked our rent. I lost our apartment and had to live with friends and family, cycling through different sofas with my three kids.
It doesn’t feel good to ask for help, but sometimes you have to for your kids. I applied for Section 8 federally subsidized housing and for SNAP.
And it’s been a blessing. We got a good roof over our heads and food on the table. We moved to a better school district, where my kids could do sports and band after school — even summer camp.
Yet our safety net system still puts obstacles in our way. The more I make at work, the less assistance I get for my kids. But the increased pay doesn’t nearly make up for the lost benefits. It’s always a precarious situation to be low-income — and being excluded from consumer financial protections makes it harder.
Fortunately, new technology can help fill in these gaps.
I downloaded an app called “Providers,” which lets me check my EBT card balance so I know if my balance is low, or if something is wrong, before I get to the cashier. It even provides budgeting help, highlights discounts and job openings, and explains where to get help during emergencies.
The option to use an app is a godsend, but the right to do so isn’t guaranteed — and it’s no substitute for the consumer financial protections that better-off Americans get.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, is now updating its rules to ensure that consumers get control of their own financial data. But the update they’re considering currently excludes low-income people who receive federal benefits from that protection.
That’s wrong. Forty-two million Americans who struggle to put food on the table receive SNAP benefits — and we deserve the same protections everyone else gets.
The CFPB must include safety net benefit delivery cards in its new rules. That would help ensure we can choose the best tools to access our information and take advantage of the benefits we get with third-party apps like Providers.
All of us deserve to be in charge of our own financial data — and protected from fraud and abuse. That’s the point of consumer protection rules in the first place. Why should it be otherwise for a hard-working mom and her kids who have dreams, too?
Evette Clemons is a hard-working mother of three employed in the service industry. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.