How Fresh EBT interacts with EBT systems

Propel
Propel
Jul 8 · 5 min read

At Propel, we take our role within the EBT ecosystem very seriously. While lots of tech companies aim for “disruption”, we don’t see it that way at all — on the contrary, we are deep believers in SNAP and EBT, as well as the public-private partnership that keeps them running. We do our work at Propel because we want to supplement those programs and help them achieve their promise: to provide critical supports for low-income Americans.

We wanted to take a moment today to outline our principles around how we interact with EBT systems. We believe that:

All EBT systems must function well in order to create a client-centered experience. It’s a team effort!

EBT systems include those run by state governments, third party processors, EBT processors, retailers, and mobile application developers like ourselves. These systems work efficiently to move payments, reduce fraud, and connect tens of millions of Americans to life-saving supports every month. The program is dynamic and locally relevant, responding to local disasters and individual needs. But it is not without complexity. Performant, reliable, consistent experiences across each of these categories is necessary to achieve the customer service goals of the program at large.

I don’t have to call the 800 number and fumble with my card to input my card number all the time anymore. Now it’s just a simple point of the finger and bam, there’s my balance and the ledger of what i spent and where. Fresh EBT was really helpful during hurricane Florence. It kept EBT users up to date on what was going on and it was accurate. I recommend Fresh EBT be an option for whoever qualifies for it. It’s an amazing app! - Tonya M., NC

At Propel, we are invested in doing whatever we can to support others to do their part. Because we interface directly with EBT cardholders and offer robust customer support, we often hear from clients first and can pinpoint issues right as they occur. To the extent that it’s helpful to arrive at resolutions more rapidly, we are happy to surface those issues directly to the folks who can get them fixed. We are committed to working within the existing system in a responsible, careful and respectful way. That includes taking precautions to ensure we do not introduce unnecessary complexity, risk, or strain on the system. All parts of the EBT system must function well to serve clients properly.

Fresh EBT is structured to reduce fraud and enhance program integrity through transparency.

All data that flows in and out of Fresh EBT’s servers is encrypted. Data security is of utmost importance to us, not least because it is important to the clients we serve and our partners. Propel does not store any sensitive or personally-identifying information used to access EBT portals on our servers, such as EBT card number, PIN, or date of birth. Information required for clients to create an account or access their balance on the EBT portal is stored locally on their phones.

It really helps to be able to quickly check my balance while I’m in the store. The phone call method is harder to do in a noisy store, and if I turn up the call volume, others can overhear my call. - Trina P., WY

Many Fresh EBT clients report they use Fresh EBT as a monitoring device — to check their account discretely and regularly to ensure there has been no fraudulent activity on their card, and to report any irregularities immediately. Over 2 million Americans use Fresh EBT, and the average person checks their balance 9 times per month; we are enlisting each of those 18 million sessions per month to safeguard against fraudulent activity.

Fresh EBT traffic should not represent an undue burden on any piece of the ecosystem.

We have architected Fresh EBT to represent a similar “footprint” on an EBT processor’s portal as a cardholder opening their laptop and logging into that portal manually. We only interact with the portal to submit information or fetch details in real time, the same way that an end user would. We don’t make extraneous calls or requests that are not important for showing an EBT cardholder the requested details about their own card.

Since we do not store login credentials on the server, we do not ever place load on an EBT portal in a batch or offline process. We only make requests in real time, when a real EBT cardholder has opened up the Fresh EBT app on their phone and is waiting to see their updated balance.

Because Fresh EBT’s traffic footprint is identical to the footprint that would occur if cardholders used the portals directly, supporting that traffic is simply a matter of supporting real cardholders in real time.

EBT systems should support all cardholders, not just some.

As of March 2019, 18,276,080 households across the country receive SNAP benefits. EBT systems ought to be architected to support each of those households — and no service provider should be in the business of deciding which EBT cardholders get to access their data and which ones don’t.

This app has made life so much easier for me and my family! I’m a full time mom and I work full time, so I’m on the go all the time and I don’t have time to stop. Pull over. Dial. Wait. Listen to prompts. Dial in responses, etc. Most times I’m under a deadline with appointments or work or someone’s school….. This app makes life a whole lot more streamlined! - Wen M., RI

The dynamics of the EBT program mean that spikes in traffic are the norm, not the exception. For example, Fresh EBT consistently sees significantly higher usage in the midnight-1am hour on the first day of each calendar month, as cardholders seek to confirm their deposit is available. Retailers understand this trend and often manage staff and supply chains to accommodate increased demand during the first week of each month, given benefit distribution schedules. State administrators and policy makers are also aware, and have responded with changes to the EBT distribution schedule and caseworker staffing.

We believe that digital systems, like EBT balance checking portals and apps, should be architected with these use cases in mind. Knowing that your deposit arrived at midnight gives a family peace of mind — and that’s something worth striving for.

[Fresh EBT] makes it so much easier to know how much I have so I can plan meals and budget my stamps to get all the ingredients. This makes them go farther. - Elaine C., KS

I wouldn’t be able to manage my food stamps or keep track of spending, it’s hard when I suffer from a rare muscle disease and I have three children. My husband also uses the app and I know it would be hard for him to keep track of our food stamps as well (imagine having a bank account without being able to view spending/statements/available amount, it would be very inconvenient and hard)….Just having the website not working the last few days has impacted us and the app really does help with many aspects of food stamps and ebt. - Stephanie K., WA

Fresh EBT is built by a team of technologists and public servants at Propel in New York City. If you’d like to learn more about our work — especially if you’re with a state agency! — we’d love to chat. Send us an email at info@joinpropel.com.

Propel

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Propel

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