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63. Replacing food stamps if something happens to them

General authority: 7 U.S.C. § 2016(i)(7)-(8); and 7 C.F.R. § 274.12(f)(5), (g)(5).

Advocates should note that there are several references to subsection (f)(5) that are in the process of being changed to (g)(5), but this has not occurred in any publication, as of June 2008. See Welf. & Inst. Code § 10072 (f)-(g); MPP § 16-517; and MPP § 63-603.

Also, the food stamp regulations still contain extensive provisions governing the replacement of “authorization to participate” (ATP) documents and food stamp coupons that have been lost, stolen, or damaged. See, e.g., 7 C.F.R. § 273.6(b). But with the national implementation and interoperability of the Electronic Benefit Transfer system (EBT), these food stamp “coupon” replacement provisions no longer have much, if any, practical significance, except in those rare circumstances when a household may have electronic funds converted to stamps (e.g., in a family emergency). See MPP § 16-315.1-315.2.

The food stamp office will replace the EBT card (the debit-type card that gives recipients access to their food stamp benefits) if it is lost, stolen, destroyed, or does not work properly. [7 C.F.R. § 274.6 (a)(i)(i); 7 C.F.R. § 274.12 (f)(5); MPP § 63-603; compare Tyson v. Norton, 390 F.Supp. 545 (D.Conn. 1975), aff’d in part and vacated in part on other grounds sub nom. Tyson v Maher, 523 F.2d 972 (2d Cir. 1975) (providing for emergency and immediate replacement of lost, stolen, or mutilated food stamps).]  

If the recipient’s EBT card is lost or stolen, or if someone the recipient does not trust learns the recipient’s “personal identification number” (PIN), the recipient should let the food stamp office know right away because the food stamp office will not replace any food stamps that were stolen from the EBT card before it was reported missing, if the authorized PIN number was used to access the benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 274.12 (f)(5)(iv); Welf. & Inst. Code § 10072(g); MPP § 16-515.1 MPP § 63-603.154.]

Better yet, the recipient should immediately use the EBT telephone “hotline” to report the lost or stolen EBT card or PIN. The food stamp office must provide recipients with a 24-hour, toll-free telephone hotline they can call to report that the card has been lost or stolen or that someone has learned the PIN. [7 C.F.R. § 274.12 (f)(5)(iv); MPP § 16-515.1.]  The food stamp regulations require that this reporting system is “continually operative.” [7 C.F.R. § 274.12(f)(5)(iv).]  As soon as a call is made to the 24-hour hotline, the food stamp office will immediately cancel the EBT card and PIN so that no one can use the food stamps. [7 C.F.R. § 274.12(g)(5)(iv); MPP § 16-515.4.]

Although 7 C.F.R. § 274.12(f)(5)(ii) requires issuance of a new card within two business days of when the old card was deactivated, that regulation allows up to five business days if the state is using centralized card issuance. Since California does rely upon centralized EBT card issuance, the three business day requirement of MPP § 16-517.1 complies with the requirements of that federal regulation.

The food stamp office must give the recipient a new EBT card within three business days of when the cardholder requested a replacement. [7 C.F.R. § 274.12(f)(5)(ii); MPP § 16-517.1.]  The new card will have the same amount of food stamps that were on the old card before the problem was reported. The food stamp office may charge a fee for replacing the card by reducing the next month’s food stamp allotment. [7 U.S.C. 2016(i)(8); 7 C.F.R. § 274.12(g)(5)(v).]  The replacement fee may not exceed the state agency’s cost to replace the card. State agencies may choose not to charge the fee if the loss was not the household’s fault. [7 C.F.R. § 274.12(f)(5)(v).]  However, there does not appear to be any authority in California law to charge such a fee.

The recipient should take care not to share the PIN with anyone, and not to write the PIN on the card. If a thief gets the EBT card and the PIN, he or she can spend all the food stamps before the theft is reported, and the food stamps cannot be replaced.

If it is suspected that someone has used the EBT card without permission, it may be a good idea to report this to the food stamp office, even if the recipient is sure that the problem will not happen again. If someone has “trafficked” the food stamps (i.e., sold them for cash), the food stamp office or a district attorney may later accuse the recipient of doing the trafficking. Although the food stamp office will not replace food stamps that were stolen before the problem was reported, it may be worth reporting it to protect the recipient from any false accusations.