Electronic Transfers: Use by Federal Payment Recipients Has Increased but Obstacles to Greater Participation Remain

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A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "In 2001, the Department of the Treasury made 764 million payments valued at $549 billion to beneficiaries of federal programs, primarily programs administered by the Social Security Administration. Of these payments, 76 percent were made using electronic funds transfers (EFTs), potentially saving the government millions of dollars in costs associated with disbursing paper checks. In 1996, Congress passed legislation which required that federal payments except tax refunds be made electronically as of January 1999. The act also required that each person affected by this mandate have ... continued below

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United States. General Accounting Office. September 12, 2002.

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Description

A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "In 2001, the Department of the Treasury made 764 million payments valued at $549 billion to beneficiaries of federal programs, primarily programs administered by the Social Security Administration. Of these payments, 76 percent were made using electronic funds transfers (EFTs), potentially saving the government millions of dollars in costs associated with disbursing paper checks. In 1996, Congress passed legislation which required that federal payments except tax refunds be made electronically as of January 1999. The act also required that each person affected by this mandate have access to an account at a financial institution at a reasonable cost and with certain consumer protections. To meet this requirement, Treasury developed the Electronic Transfer Account (ETA). Most recipients of federal benefits have their payments deposited electronically. The number of recipients using EFT climbed steadily throughout the 1990s, rising from around half to more than three-quarters of all beneficiaries. Treasury and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have undertaken activities to increase the use of direct deposit, including developing marketing material and directly notifying check recipients of the advantages of using EFT, particularly safety and convenience. Although information describing the characteristics of these EFT users is limited, GAO determined that participation rates are highest for those 65 and older. The primary obstacle to using EFT was that many federal check recipients did not have a bank account. GAO's analysis of the Survey of Income and Program Participation's 1998 data indicated that 11 million benefit recipients, over half of all federal benefit check recipients in 1998, were unbanked. The ETA has not been widely accepted by banks or unbanked beneficiaries despite Treasury's efforts to promote it. Since initiation of the program in 1999, 36,000 ETAs have been opened, representing fewer than 1 percent of unbanked beneficiaries. Based on discussions with representatives from Treasury, SSA, financial institutions, and consumer groups, GAO identified several approaches that Treasury could consider to increase the use of electronic transfers. These approaches include increasing cooperation between banks and local SSA offices to more effectively enroll beneficiaries for ETAs; exploring other electronic payment options besides the ETA to deliver benefits; partnering with banks to provide information on the general availability of low cost banking products, especially in areas with low ETA coverage; and conducting further research to determine why certain states have low direct deposit participation rates."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • September 12, 2002

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  • June 11, 2014, 5:03 a.m.

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United States. General Accounting Office. Electronic Transfers: Use by Federal Payment Recipients Has Increased but Obstacles to Greater Participation Remain, report, September 12, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc292991/: accessed August 16, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.