Many states no longer issue unemployment checks. You can receive your payments through direct deposit, or using a Visa or Mastercard-branded debit card. That’s the state of affairs in Pennsylvania, where reader Sam lives. He tells Consumerist that this method would be less of a racket for banks and more useful for people on unemployment if there were any places other than fee-happy ATMs that actually accepted the darn things.
I thought you guys would like to know about the new way a handful of states issue payments these days. First off, some background. My company did some reorganization and I found myself temporarily out the door. I applied for Unemployment benefits since at the time I wasn’t sure I would be hired back. Upon signing up, the state website (I’m in PA) mentions they no longer issue checks – you can either get direct deposit or use the state issued Mastercard branded debit card they send out. The catch is that direct deposit takes 4 weeks to take effect (why?) so no matter what you’re going to have to use the debit card for a few weeks.
Here’s where it gets fun. Despite being an honest-to-goodness Mastercard branded card, I haven’t found one place that will accept it. Even if I choose the option to use it as a credit card rather than debit, no dice. I guess what the unemployed need is the extra motivation of the embarrassment of a declined card to go out and get a job, eh? Only thing is that it’s not just unemployment. Anyone getting welfare or even mandated child support payments get this card issued. How can a business that accepts Mastercard/Visa/etc single out a certain kind of card to refuse? Besides, it’s just like any other debit card. If there’s no money it won’t go through. There’s no need for a business to worry that a card provided by the state means the person using it is a deadbeat with no money. I’m not sure what options there are either. I was told by the company that runs the cards (www.eppicard.com) that some places just refuse to accept it and that’s that. Doesn’t that violate their agreements with the credit card companies? Does Mastercard know (or care) that businesses do this? I could try to ask the management of the businesses themselves, but most likely it’s a corporate policy that no one in the stores will be able to explain. Not to mention you look like an a-hole who just can’t accept that their card got declined.
This may be something that the Consumerist would want to look into, especially since the one place that will accept the card with no question is at an ATM with their tasty fees that will nickel and dime you to death.
Likely bet: the places that don’t accept the unemployment cards are the same ones that won’t accept prepaid debit cards. If you receive unemployment, and were forced to use the debit card for any period of time, have you run into this problem in your state?