Soon, Alexa will add another skill to her growing repertoire: opening your EBT account. Developed by FIS, this new skill will ease access for disabled and elderly recipients of government assistance, especially those who are housebound or lack family support.
Of the 22 million households participating in the government’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) nearly five million are households with elderly individuals and about four-and-a-half million are non-elderly households with disabled individuals, according to the USDA. This means that nearly 40 percent of SNAP households could benefit from hands-free control of their accounts.
EBT recipients currently access their account information through the Internet or by calling an 800 number, but imagine trying to punch in your 16-digit EBT account number on a website or navigating the EBT Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system when you’re visually, hearing, or physically impaired.
“Alexa, Open EBT,” the pilot for which will launch in 2018, will provide a simple solution. Alexa will present balances for all of a participant’s EBT benefit programs, as well as provide transaction histories and deposit information, all by voice command and, for the hearing impaired, by screen. Alexa users won’t need any kind of phone, let alone a smartphone, to access their accounts.
Although near-term benefits of easy account access will help millions of elderly and disabled persons right away, longer-term benefits promise to offer even greater inclusion opportunities.
Current pilots that enable online shopping with certified grocers and drugstores are underway to assess their value, especially in combatting the problems of food deserts in urban and rural areas. We anticipate a wide-range rollout of these programs in the near future. As a result, Alexa – and, soon, Google Home – will become more skillful. And convenient.