Jimmy Chen founded Propel, a fintech startup that aimed to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP) beneficiaries seven years ago. It allowed them to check their balances via their smartphone. They could also browse deals at stores, find out which places accept food stamps, and search for jobs. Fresh EBT was the name of the app, which is named after the Electronic Benefits Transfer Card that individuals can use to access benefits.
Now, the company is changing the app’s name to Providers, while also expanding its scope with a new checking account and debit card capability. The goal: to address the fragmented nature of many low-income users’ financial lives and create a one-stop-shop for Americans to manage government benefits and other income, side-by-side.
“You can manage not just SNAP benefits, but a lot of other money, as well,” says Chen. “For families with low income, managing your finances is key to making it through the month, regardless of whether you’re receiving government cash payments, SNAP, or earned wages.
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You will find new features such as a Providers card Mastercard debit account, and the opportunity to save and make money.
The conversations with users led to the idea for the name change as well as new features. “We came to realize people don’t manage their SNAP benefits in a vacuum,” says Chen. That is, there are multiple other programs and other resources with which users make it through the month—and that creates challenges in managing all their disparate sources of money. With that in mind, Chen decided what was needed was a debit card that would go through a partner bank and be branded with Propel’s name.
The most important aspect of the app is the ability to view both government benefits and cash balances. “If you’re low income, your financial picture is very fragmented,” says Chen. “Figuring out how much you have to go shopping means looking at various government programs and how much you have in your bank account.” With the new capability, users can have government benefits like the Child Tax Credit or Supplemental Security Income directly deposited into an account alongside income from employers or gig work, and then spend the money wherever Mastercard is accepted.
Also, users can lock the card inside the app, only unlocking it when they’re ready to make a purchase, a feature added to address users’ security questions.
The number of Propel’s app users soared during the pandemic, according to Chen. Every month, more than five millions SNAP users access the app. One factor, of course, was an increase in the number of individuals receiving SNAP benefits—37 million people received food stamps February 2020 compared to about 42 million now, according to Chen. Also, changes to safety net programs have created more uncertainty about how much users can expect to receive and when. “One thing about our app is it does a lot to reduce uncertainties,” he says.
Propel also maintains a benefit page that is regularly updated. It includes information about assistance for paying utility bills or the eviction moratorium. “That will continue to be important even as a lot of these programs are winding down,” he says. “There will still be pockets of these programs that our users will need access to.”