Among the many, many (many!) problems caused by the government shutdown, the 39 million people on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) face an additional issue: they got their money early.
Typically earlier is better. But in this case, because of the shutdown and the machinations the Department of Agriculture put in place to fund the program, February benefits started being paid out last week, much earlier than normal. This earlier-than-normal distribution has states warning SNAP recipients that they’ll need to budget their purchases to last throughout February, if not longer should the shutdown continue so that funds are not available for March.
To help with that budgeting, All_ebt, which uses a combination of Facebook Messenger and virtual Visa cards so SNAP recipients can shop for groceries online, has launched a new tool to help those on food stamps plan ahead.
“Just within the last two weeks, there’s been a flood of people registered and signed up [for All_ebt],” said Eli Calderón Morin, Founder and CEO of All_ebt. “Now they are nervous about their benefits. How do they better control their spending?”
To access the new feature, those registered with All_ebt just need to send the company a note through the All_ebt Facebook Messenger bot asking for the feature to be turned on. Once activated, the budgeting feature does two things.
First, users can set the service up to receive notifications about their EBT balance either through Facebook Messenger or the All_ebt Android app. Users set the notification frequency to be daily, weekly or monthly to get running reminders of how much SNAP money they have remaining.
“Right now, they have no easy way to check their budget,” Calderón Morin said. “They have to call a 1-800 number and sit on the phone for ten minutes. There’s no way to get a daily notification saying ‘How much budget do I have left?'”
In addition to notifications, users can also set up a budget in All_ebt through Messenger or the app. Because All_ebt knows all about how much their users receive in benefits, the company can set up a spending plan for them. Additionally, it can provide users with a pie chart of how they are actually spending their money.
Without providing specifics, Calderón Morin says that All_ebt has grown and now serves people in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. He said that a “high percentage” of people on All_ebt have disabilities and are relying on the company’s technology to get the food they need. He also said that Amazon and Instacart are the top two places where All_ebt users grocery shop.
Though the shutdown has no end in sight, All_ebt is providing tools so people on food stamps can see–and plan for– their own situations a little more clearly.