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New bill seeks to end vulnerability of SNAP cards to skimming and theft

Oregon – In an effort to combat the increasing issue of cyber theft, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has taken a significant step forward by introducing legislation aimed at enhancing the cybersecurity of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards. The proposed bill seeks to modernize the security features of SNAP cards, transitioning from the outdated magnetic strip to a more secure, encrypted chip technology.

Addressing Vulnerabilities and Ensuring Protection

Currently, SNAP cards rely on magnetic strips for data storage, a technology susceptible to skimming. Skimming involves identity thieves duplicating the card to siphon off SNAP benefits, leaving families in need at a significant disadvantage. This vulnerability has led to the theft of tens of millions of dollars in SNAP benefits, highlighting a critical gap in security measures that the new bill aims to address.

Senator Wyden’s bipartisan Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act mandates the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to equip SNAP cards with chip technology and to periodically update cybersecurity regulations, including provisions for mobile or tap-to-pay options. “There’s no excuse for this two-tier system, where families in need are stuck with outdated, easily hackable technology while folks with credit and ATM cards are better protected. Inaction is not good enough for families, not when it can be the difference between a family in need having food for dinner or going hungry,” stated Wyden, emphasizing the urgency of the matter.

Key Features of the Proposed Bill

Under the proposed legislation, states will be required to issue chip-enabled SNAP cards within two years of the adoption of the new regulations. Additionally, the transition away from magnetic stripe cards will be complete within four years, with states prohibited from issuing any SNAP cards featuring the outdated technology.

The bill also includes provisions for a USDA-run grant program aimed at facilitating the upgrade of payment machines to accept chip-enabled cards, specifically targeting small grocery stores in food deserts, farmers’ markets, and farm-to-table programs.

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In response to theft, cloning, or malfunctioning of SNAP cards, the bill mandates states to provide free replacements within three days. Moreover, it calls for the development of accessible and mobile-friendly platforms for EBT account management, ensuring families can securely manage their benefits.

Historically, Oregon had not monitored complaints or rates of fraud relating to SNAP card skimming until May 2022. Since then, instances of skimming have seen a significant rise, with the state reporting 59 cases from May 2022 to December 2021, and an alarming jump to 157 cases from January 1, 2023, to July 31, 2023.

The introduction of this bill comes at a critical time, as recent data reveals that over 400,000 households in Oregon received SNAP benefits as of September 2023. If passed, the Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act will not only protect families in need but also ensure the integrity of the SNAP program against emerging cybersecurity threats.

Marcella Quintana


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