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Food Stamp Stigma On Its Way Out

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FAYETTEVILLE — The stigma of using food stamps may soon go away if a state experiment is successful. North Carolina is issuing new cards that will replace the stamps, and Fayetteville is one of the test sites.

It's a simple case of the government going high-tech. Welfare recipients will no longer have to pick up their monthly allotment of food stamps, nor will they have to carry the paper stamps around with them. Rather, they will receive a plastic card that resembles and works like a debit card.

It's called the electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, card. A client's monthly allotment will be credited to the card each month, and each total used to buy food will be automatically deducted. At the checkout, the card can be swiped and a pin number entered, just as it a debit or credit card was being used.

The new technology is expected to help the state in several ways, not the least of which is the fact that the state will save $60 million in the cost of printing paper stamps. It's also expected to reduce food stamp fraud, by eliminating the possibility of a client selling his or her food stamps to someone else.

Chip Modlin with the Cumberland County Department of Social Services says the new system provides better security for clients as well as for the state.

Modlin adds that the new cards will mean less potential for clients to be embarrassed while shopping.

Two other counties are also testing the new food stamp system throughout the summer. If it's successful, the state will begin implementing the system statewide, 10 counties at a time, beginning in the fall of 1998.

The system is expected to be completely in place by June, 1999.

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Melissa Buscher, Reporter
Michael Joyner, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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