New bill aims to bring SNAP card security up to credit card standards

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Security standards for SNAP cards have not kept pace with industry advancements, lawmakers say.

A new measure would require food benefits cards to be upgraded with anti-fraud technologies that would stop hackers from siphoning funds low-income Americans use to help pay for their groceries and other needs.

The Enhanced Cybersecurity for SNAP Act, backed by Senate and House lawmakers, is aimed at protecting those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It also applies to mobile payment systems, and would direct the Department of Agriculture to issue the regulations, which would be updated every five years to keep pace with payment security technologies.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., John Fetterman, D-Penn. and Bill Cassidy, R-La. are leading the upper chamber’s version of the bill, while Reps. Andy Kim, D-N.J., and Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. are backing a companion version in the House.

The bill, which has support from food banks and other nutrition-focused institutions, would see states roll out enhanced SNAP cards within two years of the new USDA regulations, and require that SNAP cards with magnetic strips be completely phased out within five years.

The credit card industry has rolled out physical augmentations to cards over the last several years that aim to prevent criminals from snagging funds from peoples’ cards or digitally cloning them, but current regulations do not set the same standard for SNAP.

“There’s no excuse for this two-tier system, where families in need are stuck with outdated, easily hackable technology while folks with credit and ATM cards are better protected.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

Numerous initiatives have been taken to upgrade the security and reliability of SNAP cards, though the new bill appears to focus on long-term modernization to the program, as the Pew Research Center says some 42 million Americans rely on for food assistance.

The 2023 omnibus government funding bill contained a measure to let state agencies to rely on federal funds for SNAP card replacements. Some $30 million worth of benefits funds were replaced under that law, according to USDA data that tracks fraudulent activity in the SNAP system.