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Georgia cash assistance isn't actually cash... and it's causing headaches for some

Some Georgians thought the money could be converted to cash to pay bills or buy groceries, but that's not quite the way it works.

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp promised a one-time $350 payment to vulnerable Georgians to help them offset some negative COVID-19 costs and to cope with high inflation rates. 

People enrolled in Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF programs started receiving the money. However, some are having trouble accessing the money and/or spending it. 

Have a question? Jump to the end of the article to see our Q&A. 

11Alive received several emails from people detailing frustrations over how the money was dispersed, issues with using the money, and overall confusion over how to get the cash assistance. One of those emails came from Paula Moore.

"Your cash assistance payment is available," said Moore, who originally thought the cash assistance would be well… cash.

Then she found out, "It's not going to be cash per se, it's on a virtual card."

So, the 64-year-old downloaded the virtual card to her phone; not realizing it was connected to her Apple Pay, and therein lies one problem.

"I went to Walmart, I went to Sam's Club and none of them accept it," Moore said.

Walmart and Sam's Club don't accept Apple Pay for in-store purchases. Not only that, but the cash assistance, cannot be transferred through Cash App or Zelle, cannot be converted to cash, and cannot be used at stores that don't accept digital payments. The virtual card may also be declined if a cashier runs it as the wrong type of transaction.

Moore's original plan for the money has now also turned into a cannot. 

"My radiator's supposed to be fixed this upcoming weekend and I was going to pay for that but, can't even do it," she said. 

Moore wonders why the funds weren't released in a physical card form or by check. 

The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) wrote in a statement that they used the virtual card option as, "the safest and most expeditious way to get funds to Georgians…and they do not have access to the bank account of customers."

DHS also said people can request a physical card if they opted into the U.S. mail-only option.

Moore thinks it's all too much trouble now but feels for the others in her senior living community.

"Especially with seniors. I'm a senior but there are much older people here than I and they have no clue, truly they're clueless," she said. 

As for the money on her card, it's still there, since she can't use it to pull out cash, fix her radiator or get groceries at certain stores with lower prices, without having to shop online.

"Forget it. It's not worth the hassle for me. People on SNAP go to the least expensive stores. It's no hide off me, so I'll just keep on doing what I do," Moore said. 

We asked DHS several questions to help assist people trying to use their money, its responses are below. 

Q&A: 

Why did DHS not use physical cards, paper checks or deposit money into bank accounts?

"The virtual card option was chosen as it was the safest and most expeditious way to get funds to Georgians. DHS does not have access to the bank accounts of our customers, and there is more opportunity for fraud with checks."

What are the restrictions for the virtual card?

If recipients attempt to transfer their card balance to Apple Cash, Cash App or Zelle, the transfer will be declined.

Cards cannot be used to buy money orders or impermissible transactions.

A card balance cannot be converted to cash. A card cannot be used at stores that do not accept digital pay. 

A remedy suggested by DHS includes using Buy Online and Pick-up In-Store, according to their availability. 

What if I don't have email/want a physical card?

Instructions on how to redeem the virtual payment will be included in email communication when the payment is issued. Plastic cards will be mailed to eligible Georgians who do not have their email address listed in Gateway. Those who are eligible, who opted into U.S. mail only will receive a physical card in the coming weeks.

What if I don't have a smartphone?

"People can use the virtual card’s number, expiration date, and CVC2 code as they would use a regular debit card."

What are the reasons virtual cards may be declined at stores?

"The most common reason is that the merchant does not accept digital cards. Once you have loaded your card into your digital wallet (Apple, Google, or Samsung), it can be used in-store with merchants that accept digital cards. Just open the Wallet/App on your device and follow the on-screen instructions, including entering your virtual card number manually."

"Your virtual card could show 'declined' if a cashier runs it as the wrong type of transaction. Make sure your virtual card is being run as a debit transaction in-store. You may be required to enter your debit PIN."

"Trying to use your virtual card for an online or phone purchase? You may be asked to provide a name and address. You’ll need to use the name and address of the person whose name appears on the virtual card as listed in Gateway."

"Card clash is an issue that may occur if you accidentally touch more than one virtual card on a reader at the same time. To avoid card clash, make sure you have selected the virtual card you intend to pay with before touching it to the reader."

"When using your Card at a gas station, you should pay inside instead of paying at the pump."

For more information, restrictions, and solutions for the virtual card: click here

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