Gore unveils plan to pay federal benefits via ATM


June 01, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore yesterday displayed a red, white and blue card designed to speed and protect the delivery of federal benefits through an ATM-style system.

The federal "Benefit Security Card" will be made available to veterans and federal retirees by the year 1999, the Clinton administration announced.

Welfare recipients in the state of Maryland already use "Independence" cards, which allow them to collect their benefits at automated teller machines.

Under the federal plan, federal and military retirees would be able to use their cards at ATMs and some retail registers. The computerized system aims to save money by cutting paperwork, improving service and eliminating fraud by creating an electronic audit trail.

"By using a card," Mr. Gore said, "we not only deliver services in a much better, safer, more targeted way, we also eliminate the paperwork and cut down on waste, fraud and abuse."

In pitching the plan, Mr. Gore said an "electronic government" can simplify the lives of recipients of benefits. He then told a story about life in the future:

"It's Saturday and a recent retiree stops at an electronic kiosk at a Denver mall and gets a fishing license, paying by credit card.

"At the same kiosk, he enters his Social Security and personal ID number and gets a statement listing both his Social Security amount and his veterans benefit amount, and the entire process takes three minutes."

Under an electronic system, recipients would be issued plastic cards similar to bank cards, and would select personal identification numbers.

A year ago, Maryland expanded its computerized benefits system statewide, making food stamps available through ATMs. Cash under five other federal and state welfare programs is distributed to an estimated 168,000 Maryland households a month via the state's "Independence" card. Now Maryland wants to be part of bringing the program to other groups, including veterans and federal retirees.

"We're certainly very interested in making that work," said Walinda West, a spokeswoman for Maryland's electronic benefits transfer system. She said the state is eager to implement a larger program, using a single card to provide benefits for 12 major government benefit programs.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala said an ATM system will provide added security to anyone who gets money from the federal government. Each card owner could withdraw a part of his or her benefits, instead of cashing out all at once, and could trace the transfer of those funds through a computerized audit system.

"We'll have an electronic audit trail for every transaction, making fraud much easier to detect and prosecute," said Ms. Shalala.

Eventually, the electronic system will include the Food Stamp Program, Aid to Families and Dependent Children, certain direct federal cash benefit programs and some state general assistance programs.

But the Clinton administration hopes that once the full range of programs is included, the system will deliver over $111 billion in benefits electronically each year to more than 31 million people.

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