Most of us take for granted the basic protections built in and around our credit and debit cards. We are protected against most forms of fraud so any bogus charge on an account belonging to us gets zapped, and our only real inconvenience is changing our card information wherever we use it. 

The same goes for the physical protections. Since 2011, many credit and debit cards have come equipped with EMV chips. The magnetic strip on the back of credit cards contains that card’s account number and other data. Unlike the magnetic strip which is vulnerable to skimmers (data tapping using a widely available reader), the EMV chip creates new data for every transaction, thus making the card harder to hack.  

EMV chips have been on every kind of charge card, by law, since mandatory adoption of the technology started in 2015.

Enter the SNAP EBT card. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a government program extended to people who are determined to need assistance. The SNAP EBT is an electronic benefit transfer card that is used by state welfare departments to issue benefits.

While SNAP is a federal program, the way it’s administered state-by-state varies. But one thing that is consistent: SNAP EBT cards do not come with EMV chips. One may argue that EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa, and SNAP EBTs are none of these–but the counter is EMV chips are on all credit cards issued today.  

Why SNAP EBT cards should have EMV chips

The primary issue is that the old-school magnetic strip on SNAP EBT cards makes it easy to intercept a recipient’s account information, and, with that, steal that person’s benefits. What would be an inconvenience for a middle-class household can mean the difference between eating and not eating for a low income household.

Worse, unlike credit cards which assume criminal activity and remove fraudulent charges, once the money in a SNAP account has been stolen, it’s often gone for good. Most states do not reimburse fraud victims. 

Low-income households are also more vulnerable toward skimming attacks at ATMs and the like. There are typically fewer security cameras in low-income areas as well. It’s way past midnight when it comes to this much needed upgrade to the SNAP EBT card.