Assessing the Benefits and Problems Associated with the Use of Electronic Benefits Transfer for Food Stamps in Macon County, Alabama

Year: 1999

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Zekeri, Andrew A.

Institution: Tuskegee University

Project Contact:
Andrew A. Zekeri
Department of Sociology
Tuskegee University
Tuskegee, AL 36088


Zekeri collected qualitative and survey data in Macon County, AL, to examine the benefits and problems associated with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) from the recipients’ point of view. Recipients were asked to identify benefits and problems with using EBT and whether EBT reduces benefit waste, fraud, and abuse. Of the 1,100 food stamp recipients in the county randomly selected to participate in the study, 857 responded to the questionnaire.

Zekeri found a majority of the sampled recipients (75.3 percent) felt that the EBT system is a “good” method of delivering Food Stamp Program benefits. Sixteen percent rated the system “fair.” Only a few respondents rated EBT “poor.” The responses to other questions indicated that large majorities of Macon County food stamp recipients prefer EBT to coupons. Most respondents (74 percent) found the EBT card easier and better to use than paper coupons.

Approximately 63 percent said the system reduces the stigma associated with using food stamps in grocery stores.

Most recipients (87 percent) believe the EBT system is a safe method of delivering food stamp benefits. Seventy-nine percent felt that EBT is more reliable and secure than coupons. According to recipients, then, the EBT system may reduce costs of issuing and redeeming program benefits by reducing losses from fraud and abuse.

Overall, food stamp recipients in Macon County, AL, who have experienced both the EBT and coupon systems overwhelmingly prefer EBT. Reasons reported for preferring EBT included general convenience, increased security against loss or theft, and reduced embarrassment or stigma.

The majority of food stamp recipients surveyed saw no major problems with the EBT system. Nearly three-fourths of all respondents indicated that there were no problems with the system. Specific issues respondents rated as “not a problem” included using the card to buy food (84 percent), keeping the Personal Identification Number (PIN) secret, knowing your Food Stamp account balance (79 percent), taking good care of the card (75 percent), getting help from store cashiers (75 percent), remembering your Personal Identification Number or changing it (67 percent), replacing lost cards (66 percent), and using the card outside of Alabama (61 percent).