The National Automated Clearing House Association has adopted operating rules for electronic benefits transfer.

Though the association was criticized last year when it established a benefits transfer council to write the rules, "the controversy for the most part has died down," said Elliott C. McEntee, president and chief executive of the Herndon, Va.-based organization.

The rules would initially be adopted by states and then complied with by card issuers, transaction processors, networks, and merchants.

The 51 council members include Citicorp, NationsBank Corp., BankAmerica Corp., Cash Station Inc., the Most Network, Star System Inc., Electronic Data Systems Corp., Lockheed Services, Buypass Corp., and state and federal government officials - indicating that major forces in banking and payment systems support the initiative.

Mr. McEntee said 15 states - members of the Southern Alliance of States and the Northeast Coalition - are planning to adopt the rules, and 15 others are considering them.

"I'm strongly supportive of the idea of operating rules and also the placement of the council under the Nacha umbrella," said Richard Mellinger, electronic benefits transfer project manager for Wisconsin. He recently held a similar position in Florida.

"Portability of benefits (access to funds across state lines) can only be done through a common set of operating rules," he added.

There are still dissenters.

Transactive Corp., the electronic benefits transfer processor for Texas, contends that for the clearing house group to adopt national rules "is superfluous and unnecessary," said spokesman Marc Palazzo.

The American Bankers Association approves of any initiative that encourages uniform electronic delivery of benefits such as food stamps and welfare, according to a spokesman, John Hall. But he called the American National Standards Institute, in which the ABA plays a key coordinating role for the financial industry, the "appropriate vehicle to be setting the new standards."

Mr. Hall and other observers said food-stamp standards being formulated by the institute would be sufficient to complement existing rules for commercial transactions.

The operating rules of the clearing house group's EBT Council specify the responsibilities of the various parties involved in the delivery of benefits through automated teller machines and point of sale terminals.

The council has purchased the Quest service mark, formerly used by an ATM network in Kentucky, which can appear on the backs of cards as well as on terminals of participating merchants. There will be no fee associated with use of the mark.

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