Fraught early rollout of cash payments to Medicaid, SNAP recipients
The rollout of cash assistance payments that Gov. Brian Kemp allocated to Medicaid SNAP and TANF recipients isn't going smoothly for everyone.
Driving the news: The Department of Human Services, which is administering the $350 payments, has been beset by complaints from people having trouble accessing or using the funds at certain stores.
Catch up quick: Kemp announced $1 billion of the state's federal COVID relief dollars would go towards these payments to adults and children last month.
- The first round of payments to 3 million eligible Georgians began going out via email this week for recipients to access via digital wallet apps like Apple Pay.
Angel Butts of Fairburn, Ga. told Axios the virtual card was declined at gas stations, a grocery store and at Walmart. She said she had to leave a cart full of groceries at the Walmart register when the payment wouldn't work.
- "I was so embarrassed. I had my kids with me and they didn't understand why we couldn't get this stuff," the mother of four said.
- Butts said it was "chaos" at the Union City Walmart as other people appeared to struggle with the same issue Tuesday. "It was a lot of abandoned carts full of groceries," she said, explaining Walmart staff recognized the problem but couldn't fix it.
The other side: In a statement to Axios, the department's Communications Director Kylie Winton said that more than $70 million in payments have already been claimed, "with tens of millions of dollars already spent at thousands of locations."
- "Customers who attempt to purchase restricted items with their virtual card in store or online will have their card declined per the cardholder agreement."
- Winton said the department is working as quickly as possible to respond to a high volume of calls and social media messages.
Details: The state restricted the funds from any "illegal" purchases or purchases of things like gaming, adult entertainment, liquor, tobacco or firearms, but no one contacted by Axios said they were buying such items when the card was declined.
- The FAQs also say the the card can be used online and in-person via a digital wallet, "anywhere Mastercard debit cards [are] accepted in the U.S."
In a Facebook comment, Jennifer Young wrote: "Y'all can just keep my fake Monopoly money...save us the embarrassment of going shopping and getting declined in front of half your town and having to walk out with your kids not understanding what's happening."
Jessica Fields of Rochelle, Ga. said after two days of hunting she has only been able to use the cards at one of fifteen gas stations, only sporadically at one McDonalds and only online at Walmart.
- "You're really lost with this card. It's really a gamble," she told Axios. She's been having to carry her kids in and out of retailers to test it at each place.
- "I was excited. I felt like that's a way to get ahead of bills. That's a way to get Christmas out of the way," she said of the initial announcement.
- Fields said she's also been helping elderly relatives who had no idea that selecting an "email" option of receipt meant they would have to use a digital wallet, nor how to use one.
Of note: According to Facebook comments, others have struggled without phones new enough to facilitate digital wallet apps, or struggled in smaller towns to find stores that even accept tap-to-pay payments.
Yes, but: Some recipients have reported on social media that they were able to use the funds. Butts says she was eventually able to use it on Walmart.com and to pay an online electric bill. But the uncertainty of where it will work, she said, remains frustrating.
- She was hoping to buy groceries, catch up on bills and buy her children school clothes, which she they need to try on in store.
- "They may have had good intentions but the way that they started rolling it out, I feel like it was irresponsible," Butts told Axios. "It felt like it was good, but it was an afterthought as well. Just trying to hush us up because of all the election stuff going on."
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