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New cards for food-benefit recipients


Published: Thu, March 23, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The new cards will save the state about $23 million per year.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The green plastic Ohio Direction cards that replaced paper food stamps several years ago are being replaced themselves with new cards and streamlined services, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
New blue and silver cards have been mailed to JFS clients for use beginning Monday. The old green cards can't be used after Sunday, though any unused benefits will be transferred to the new cards by next Wednesday.
The new Direction Card has a magnetic strip and can be swiped through any debit card machine.
In the past, Direction Card holders could use only specially equipped checkouts in stores. The old cards used what's known as "smart card" technology and contained computer chips that required a certain type of machine to read them.
"When we selected that technology in the mid-1990s, it was kind of hailed as very forward thinking," said Dennis Evans, public information officer with ODJFS in Columbus. However, "That technology never took off."
Magnetic strip cards are much cheaper to use than the old smart cards, which cost roughly $4 each to replace, Evans said. The state expects to save about $23 million annually with the new cards, he added.
JFS clients will continue to receive their monthly food stamp benefits through electronic funds transfer, which compares with direct deposit of payroll checks into bank accounts.
Food stamp benefits, which are part of a federal program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, may be used only to buy food for human consumption, except for hot food items that are prepared to be eaten immediately. Alcoholic beverages, tobacco, paper products and items such as soap are excluded per federal regulations. "[The program] is designed to help ensure that people have food and nutritional items," Evans said.
Must establish PIN
Direction Card users need to select four-digit personal identification numbers before using their new cards by calling a toll-free customer service number, (866) 386-3071. Callers also must provide their birth dates and Social Security numbers for identification when choosing PIN numbers.
Card users also may need to change their habits when it comes to keeping track of their food stamp benefits, because they can no longer scan their cards through card readers to obtain their account balances, Evans said.
With the new cards, remaining balances will be printed on the bottom of store receipts. Clients are encouraged to keep those receipts in order to know how much they have spent, or to call the aforementioned customer service number for balance information, said Mariann O'Halloran, deputy director of Mahoning County JFS.
Balances also may be checked online at www.ebt.acs-inc.com.
Fact sheets about the new Direction Card are available at Mahoning County JFS, O'Halloran said.
shaulis@vindy.com


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