Unemployment benefits now on debit cards

Nevadans receiving unemployment benefits can now get their weekly money on a debit card rather than by paper check.

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation is converting the system saying it will not only save the state money but improve service to recipients.

Theresa Nicks, who manages the benefits program, said the debit cards are issued by mail and that more than 5,000 have already gone out.

She said all clients will be automatically converted and receive a debit card by mail if they don't opt out by the week beginning Dec. 3. Thus far, 108 have opted to keep paper checks.

Nicks said more than 1,000 cards have already been activated and their accounts accessed.

In the existing system, the state prints and mails 800,000 checks to more than 120,000 recipients every year.

Program Administrator Cynthia Jones said the state will save at least a half million dollars each year.

"In printing costs alone, common sense says not having to print checks, insert them into envelopes, buy those envelopes and mail them, right there it tells you we're saving taxpayers a lot of money," she said.

But she said the new system is even better for those receiving the checks. First, they will get their weekly payments several days sooner because delivery won't be at the mercy of the post office, but a direct electronic transfer from the state to their debit account at Wells Fargo bank.

That means no more checks lost or stolen in the mail.

Equally important, she said there is no identification on the VISA debit card that says the person is on unemployment.

"It gets rid of any stigma," she said. "It's looks just like any other VISA card."

Nicks said the cards are activated just like most normal credit and debit cards, by calling a phone number and providing identifying information such as date of birth and mother's maiden name.

Then, Nicks said, the person sets their personal identification number by phone. She said the PIN number provides security for the card because it must be used on all transactions.

Each week, Nicks said, the person's weekly benefit amount is electronically transferred to his or her account. The client simply uses the card like a normal credit or debit card.

Another benefit, Nicks said, is eliminating the fees banks charge clients who don't have a bank account. The card can be used without fees at any place which accepts VISA.

"There are a lot of cool bells and whistles to this program I'm very excited about," Jones said.

All recipients can sign up for either an e-mail or phone call to let them know when their weekly deposit is available to spend, she said. They can also check their balance and transaction history online day or night.

"I think this is one of the best services we've every provided for individuals," Nicks said.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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