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The Department of Agriculture provided $15 billion in food stamp benefits to 17 million recipients in 2000. Until the mid-1990s, most recipients received paper coupons that they could use to buy food; today, 80 percent of all benefits are provided electronically. Recipients use cards, much like debit cards, to pay for their groceries at the checkout counter, and the costs are deducted from the recipients' monthly allocation. GAO found that 42 of the 53 jurisdictions it studied will likely meet the October 1, 2002, deadline for implementing a statewide electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia had already implemented a statewide EBT system by October 2001, and six other states had signed EBT contracts and were on track to meet the October 2002 deadline for statewide implementation. GAO did not identify any technical barriers to statewide implementation of EBT systems that are interoperable and portable.

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