Eppicard glitch causes delays for benefits recipients

Users of Eppicard, an electronic-payment card issued to recipients of government benefits in 19 states, couldn't access their online accounts Tuesday because of a computer glitch.

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    Xerox CEO Ursula Burns discusses the company's acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services with its president and CEO, Lynn Blodgett (right), in this 2009 file photo. ACS runs the Eppicard benefits-card program in 19 states, which on Tuesday experienced a computer glitch, making it difficult for recipients of government benefits in 19 states to access their accounts online.
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Users of an electronic-payment card issued in 19 states had trouble accessing their accounts online Tuesday because of a computer glitch.

For several hours this afternoon, the Eppicard website was slow or unresponsive. At 4:30 p.m. E.D.T., the system's home page would not load on a Boston computer.

"This is due to a technical issue that we hope to have resolved shortly and we regret any inconvenience," wrote Eppicard spokesman Ken Ericson in an e-mail response to a reporter's query. Eppicard is a program of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Xerox company. "If cardholders need to access their account information, they can always call the phone number that is on the back of their card."

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But be careful, because Eppicard can charge fees when people call customer service. It's one of a number of fees that the system charges its users, who typically receive the card when they sign up for unemployment benefits, child-support payments, welfare benefits, and other government-related payments.

The cards, which work like prepaid Visa or Mastercard cards, are popular with state governments because they're cheaper than issuing checks to residents. Typically, benefits recipients can use Eppicard or have benefits deposited directly into a bank account. The cards are supposed to make it easier for users to pay for things they need, especially if they don't have a bank account.

But ACS charges a variety of fees for everything from calling customer service to using an ATM. For example, starting Aug. 1, Oklahomans receiving money from the state Department of Human Services saw their fees go up to $1.35 for every ATM withdrawal made after the first two in a month (which are still free, if the cardholder uses a Bank of Oklahoma ATM).

Complaints about the system have poured in to consumer advocates and newspapers over the past two years, either because issues weren't resolved by customer service or because of scammers who duped users into giving out their personal identification.

The best way to avoid fees? Many Eppicard users on discussion threads suggest going to the bank that issues the card once a month and transferring the entire amount to a bank account or taking out the money in cash.

"The best way to avoid feeds is to visit an in-network ATM or in-network bank with teller access," Mr. Ericson writes in the e-mail. "Cardholders also have the option of receiving cash back with many retail purchases."

Or, of couse, they can avoid the cards completely and have their benefits deposited directly into their bank account.

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