03 August 2009


The Social Security Disability application process in some cases can drag on for months, or even years, The state of Ohio and the respective counties provide a $115.oo per month benefit to the SSDI applicant while he or she is waiting in Federal limbo. It's also known as a DFA. A food stamp card is also provided. It's not much to live on, but it can qualify an SSDI applicant for some sort of shelter or housing program, thus avoiding homelessness. When the applicant's SSDI/SSI is approved, there is usually a back settlement to cover all the waiting time, so the $115.oo per month benefit, times X number of months you were on it, is repaid to the state and county. In theory, the taxpayers are actually breaking even. Except. Recently the state of Ohio contracted out the disbursement of this $115.oo per month benefit to Comerica Bank's Eppicard program. Now, instead of a county or state check, your $115.oo per month is credited to a plastic card, a Visa or Mastercard. Information pamphlets given to disabled folks by Hamilton County JFS explain that there are 2 ways to withdraw cash. One, you can use a merchant whose Visa/Mastercard terminal gives cash back on transactions. Or two, you can use an ATM belonging to local banks who have agreed to do cash withdrawals off the Eppicard for free. Eppicard will charge you $0.75 to use one of these "participating" ATMs, but the banks, according to Comerica Eppicard's pamplet, charge no further fees. However.... https://www4comerica.com/forms2/bankInquiryForm Comerica General Inquiry Form Inquiry Information Myquestion/request: Re: Comerica's Eppicard program in Ohio. Comerica Eppicard pamphlets given to people who receive Disability Financial Assistance in Ohio show that there is a .75 cent charge for using ATMs for cash withdrawal. The pamphlet advises that 5/3rd Bank, PNC and Alliance ATM's can be used by benefits recipients with no service charge beyond that .75 cents. But ATMs at 5/3rd Bank do add a $3.00 charge. This charge is shown as part of the cash advance on the online Comerica Eppicard statement. I.E., a $50.00 cash advance from a 5/3rd ATM is reported by Eppicard to be $53.00, thus disguising the transaction fee. Why such a deceptive practice? Neither 5/3rd nor Eppicard's 866# have any information about this. As you can see below, Comerica was unable or unwilling to answer my question, and cleverly referred me back to Eppicard! reply-to ERMforDB@comerica.com Mon, Aug 3, 2009 at 8:10 AM Re: General Inquiry Form Dear David Carney: Thank you for contacting Comerica Bank. We appreciate the time you have taken to send us a message. For information on Automated Teller Machine (ATM) fees with your Eppicard, please call Ohio's Eppicard Customer Services at 1-800-503-1283. If we may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us again. Thank you for choosing Comerica Bank. Kina M Hamilton Customer Care Representative - Comerica Bank Disabled people in Hamilton County did not "choose" Comerica Bank. Comerica Bank chose them. Disabled people had no say in the decision. In fact, it came as quite a surprise! Eppicard's 866 number accepted a voice mail from me, but so far nobody has responded. Two emails and an in person meeting with a manager at 5/3rd's Fountain Square Branch resulted in responses that were eerily identical: We have no knowledge of such a program. We have never heard of "Eppicard." Yet 5/3rd's ATM is only too happy to charge $3.00 for a cash withdrawal for a person whose income is $115.oo per month. If my math is right, that's about 2.6% of one's monthly income for one transaction! ATM's are extremely bad news for disabled people. But Comerica, Eppicard, and local banks have made the situation worse. Their motivation is greed. Hamilton County JFS has not responded to my inquiry about this, nor have they volunteered any statistics about exactly how many people in Hamilton County are receiving the DFA benefit. If say, 10,000 people in Ohio make a cash withdrawal at ATMs in a given month, then the banks have made $30,000.00 in fees. Off disabled people who have been told the "participating bank" won't charge any fee. And said fee appears not as a fee, but as part of the withdrawal on the Eppicard statement. Remember we mentioned how that $115.oo per month DFA has to be paid back out of your SSDI settlement? But that $3.00 fee is not refundable, so the new SSDI recipient is actually paying that $3.00 out twice. Once to the bank, and a second time when he refunds the state and county. It's only $3.00. Why devote all this cyberspace to kvetch about a lousy 3 bucks? Because it's a petty fraud, perpetrated against people who are least able to defend themselves from being preyed upon. Comerica and 5/3rd should be collectively ashamed of themselves.

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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