On June 13, 2022, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) announced a new contract with Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc. to manage Ohio’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and Electronic Payment Card (EPC) Systems for the State of Ohio. This is an important development for Ohioans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Ohio Works First (OWF) benefits, as well as health and human service providers throughout Ohio. As we explained in a previous paper, SNAP recipients receive their food benefits through an EBT card that is mailed and managed by this third-party vendor. A similar process exists for OWF participants who receive cash benefits on an EPC card.
The successful bidder, Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc. (“Conduent” for short) has been Ohio’s contracted EBT vendor since 2014 when they took over the contract from JPMorgan Chase.
The successful bidder, Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc. (“Conduent” for short) has been Ohio’s contracted EBT vendor since 2014 when they took over the contract from JPMorgan Chase. Conduent’s prior contract was renewed every two years through 2022 when the state was required to put the contract out again for competitive bidding. According to state documents, another experienced EBT vendor, Fidelity Information Services (FIS), also submitted a bid but was not awarded the contract. Conduent will, once again, have the opportunity to renew this contract every two years (at the State’s option) with a maximum contract end date of June 30, 2033.
Overcoming barriers to SNAP access
As we wrote in July 2021, the re-procurement of Ohio’s EBT vendor contract represents a “once-in-a-decade opportunity” to ensure that the state’s EBT system prioritizes customer service standards for the 756,000 households who receive SNAP benefits to help feed their families. For many years, community organizations who help eligible Ohioans access public benefits identified significant problems with Ohio’s EBT card system, including barriers to timely card delivery and a customer service hotline that was not user-friendly.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems, and members of the Benefits Access Partnership, including the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, heard from many SNAP participants whose EBT card problems prevented them – sometimes for many months – from accessing the nutrition benefits they were eligible to receive and desperately needed. Rooted in this experience, the Benefits Access Partnership began to engage county and state leaders to identify short and long-term solutions to improve the experience of EBT customers in Ohio.
Three ways to improve SNAP access and service
In December 2020, the Center for Community Solutions made several recommendations to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) as they worked with DAS to develop specifications for the Request for Proposals from potential EBT vendors. These recommendations were later published by Community Solutions in July 2021, after the RFP had been publicly released. Our recommendations stated that ODJFS and DAS should:
- Hold EBT vendors accountable for customer service standards
- Closely monitor the performance of Ohio’s EBT vendor and include corrective action planning and explicit penalties if the vendor consistently fails to meet performance standards for responsiveness.
- Require Ohio’s EBT vendor to offer a virtual hold (i.e. automatic call-back) option for periods of unexpectedly high call volume.
- Increase monitoring of the EBT Customer Service Center (e.g. listen to a reasonable percentage of calls per quarter) and create clear escalation procedures for reporting customer service representatives who provide poor customer service.
- Improve EBT card issuance and mailing processes
- Proactively ask every SNAP applicant (on the application and during the initial interview) whether they already have an EBT card or need a new one mailed to them.
- Consider ways to incentivize counties to process benefits closer to the date of application to avoid untimely card issuance or the need for overnight card delivery.
- Track timeliness information by county showing the number of days between application, eligibility determination, and card issuance.
- Revise EBT card replacement process
- Require the EBT vendor to make changes to the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) prompts to better serve customers, including a prompt for applicants who have not received their EBT cards so they can be directly connected to a customer service representative.
- Allow County JFS workers to request a replacement card for households in certain circumstances, such as (1) at the time of initial certification, after affirmatively asking the household if they currently have an EBT card and (2) when contacted by a current SNAP recipient who has been unable to request a replacement card directly through the EBT vendor.
- Study the possibility of automatically issuing new EBT cards to SNAP recipients who have not had an active SNAP case for a significant period of time.
Community Solutions’ appreciates ODJFS’ commitment to customer service and human-centered design.
We are hopeful that ODJFS, DAS, and Conduent considered these recommendations and incorporated new customer protections in the final negotiated contract. The Center for Community Solutions has requested a copy of the full contract terms from the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. This post will be updated after we complete our analysis of these documents.
Community Solutions’ appreciates ODJFS’ commitment to customer service and human-centered design in response to our recommendations in other domains, such as client notices and the Ohio Benefits Self-Service Portal. We look forward to monitoring the implementation of Ohio’s new contract and continuing to raise the voices of SNAP and OWF customers who experience challenges with these systems.