March 7, 2024

6 Min Read

PRESS RELEASE

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., with Sens. John Fetterman, D-Penn., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., today introduced the Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act to upgrade the security of electronic benefit cards and protect families in need from thieves that have stolen millions worth of essential food benefits. 

Reps. Andy Kim, D-N.J., and Mike Lawler, R-N.Y.,  are leading the bill in the House of Representatives.

To date, tens of millions of dollars in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have been stolen by criminals exploiting lax security of SNAP electronic benefit cards. Congress has spent years pressing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require states to issue cards with secure chips rather than magnetic strips that can be easily cloned by criminals. Despite those requests, USDA has failed to update security regulations for benefit cards. 

“There’s no excuse for this two-tier system, where families in need are stuck with outdated, easily hackable technology while folks with credit and ATM cards are better protected.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,” Wyden said. 

"SNAP is a critical lifeline for nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians — we must do everything we can to protect it. It’s despicable that thieves are targeting vulnerable hungry families with cyber-crime scams. We can't let families go hungry because of bad faith actors," Senator Fetterman said. "As Chair of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, I am committed to doing everything in my power to protect and expand SNAP benefits and make sure American families get fed no matter what. In addition to this bill, I’ve also introduced the Fairness for Victims of SNAP Skimming Act to give state SNAP agencies more authority to reimburse SNAP recipients of benefits stolen by skimming. I am proud to work across the aisle on this bipartisan, bicameral bill to modernize SNAP and stop criminals from stealing critical food assistance from working families."

“SNAP is supposed to help the person who is food insecure,” said Dr. Cassidy. “It is not supposed to help crooks who steal these benefits. This fights the crooks while preserving the benefits for those most in need.” 

“Hundreds of thousands of people across New Jersey alone use SNAP to support themselves and their families. With outdated card technology, we are leaving their benefits vulnerable to cybersecurity theft and leaving families at-risk of being unable to put food on the table every day,” said Congressman Kim. “I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to make common-sense upgrades to EBT cards that will protect Americans’ SNAP benefits from everyday threats.”

“We must ensure families who rely on SNAP get the support they need - and that means we must ensure there are adequate safeguards in place to protect those benefits from cybersecurity threats,” said Congressman Lawler. “To that end, I’m proud to join my colleague Rep. Kim along with Senators Wyden, Fetterman and Cassidy in introducing the bipartisan, bicameral Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act. This legislation will go a long way to ensuring that those who need this assistance are the ones receiving it, not the fraudsters who prey on our most vulnerable.”

The Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act addresses fraud by directing USDA to update its cybersecurity regulations to ensure SNAP benefits cannot be easily stolen by criminals. Specifically, this bill will require: 

USDA to issue updated regulations requiring SNAP cards to feature anti-fraud technology capable of resisting cloning. These regulations, which also cover mobile payments (such as tap-to-pay with a smartphone), will be updated every five years and must keep pace with private sector and federal agency payment security safeguards. 

With USDA funding, states will begin issuing chip-enabled SNAP cards within two years of the adoption of the new regulations. Within four years, states will no longer be able to issue new SNAP cards containing a magnetic stripe. Within five years, states will have to reissue all existing SNAP cards containing a magnetic stripe as chip-only cards.

USDA to operate a grant program providing funds for upgraded chip-capable payment machines to small grocery stores in food deserts, farmers markets, and farm-to-consumer programs.

States to provide families with no-fee replacements of SNAP cards in three days or less, if their card is stolen, cloned by fraudsters, or malfunctioning.

States to offer multiple accessible, reliable, and mobile-friendly user interfaces, such as a smartphone app or online web portal, for families to manage their EBT account.

The bill is endorsed by the Oregon Food Bank, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), Propel, Secure Tech Alliance (STA), Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Hunger Free America, Higher Learning Advocates, Code for America, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Bread for the World, American Heart Association, , Feeding Texas, Hunger Free New Jersey, Food Bank of South Jersey and Hunger Solutions NY.

Food Research & Action Center: "The Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act is a crucial next 

step in protecting SNAP consumers against losses from unauthorized electronic transactions," said Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). "SNAP is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger, but its impact has been undermined by ongoing cases of skimming theft, leaving individuals and families unable to purchase enough food for the dinner table. With chip-enabled benefit cards, SNAP households will be able to make secure transactions without fear of losing their benefits."

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute: "The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute has worked with hundreds of families whose SNAP benefits were stolen. It is unconscionable that low-income families facing food insecurity are left more vulnerable to theft than all other consumers. SNAP families deserve equitable protection in the checkout line from skimming - we urge lawmakers to address this major gap in federal law." 

Nan Swift, Governance Program Fellow, R Street Institute: “R Street Institute is pleased to support the bipartisan “Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act of 2024.” This legislation would provide long-overdue fraud protections and financial management tools for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP). 

Unlike other debit cards associated with federal programs, including Social Security, Veterans, and even the Economic Impact Card Americans received during the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP users’ electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards do not have modern chip technology to prevent skimming and other forms of passive fraud that can deprive families of critical funds. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, replacing these funds can cost millions of dollars, in addition to increasing nutritional uncertainty in the lives of vulnerable individuals. 

The fault for this oversight, and the responsibility for resolving and enhancing EBT fraud prevention technology lies with Congress. The “Enhanced Cybersecurity Cybersecurity for SNAP Act” is a basic good governance measure that should be enacted quickly to prevent fraud and protect limited resources.”

Read the full bill text here.

A one-page summary is available here.

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