NEW YORK - Members of the EBT Working Group, a coalition of community and consumer advocacy organizations, legal services advocates, and public assistance recipients, called on Gov. George Pataki and Citigroup Inc. Wednesday to rectify "widespread system failures" in the delivery of public benefits, including food stamps and cash assistance, under New York's mandatory electronic benefit transfer program.

New York State awarded Citibank the contract to deliver public benefits electronically in 1995. Coalition members said they have documented numerous system flaws and serious problems with access to benefits, particularly for seniors, people with disabilities, and people living in neighborhoods with limited or no access to non-surcharging cash machines.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Citi entered into a settlement agreement last week requiring Citi to provide 149 nonsurcharging cash access machines in low-income neighborhoods of New York City, but the group is asking Mr. Spitzer to closely monitor implementation of the deal and to address homebound recipients, who cannot get to ATMs.

"We found that EBT users are consistently paying hefty surcharges to gain access to their cash benefits as a result of the severe shortage of non-surcharging ATMs in neighborhoods in which most EBT users live," Sarah Ludwig, executive director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, said in a statement. "This means that money intended to cover people's basic necessities is going instead to pay for surcharges."

"The EBT system extends throughout the state of New York," a spokesman for Citigroup said. "And there are access points throughout the state of New York that appear to be accurate to cover the needs."

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