The Northeast Spa and Pool Association is rolling out a program to help employers with workers who can’t obtain checking accounts.

Prepaid debit cards are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to check-cashing services and credit cards. Users have a certain dollar amount loaded onto their debit cards, which can be spent at stores, and on Websites, as with any other debit card.

“It’s a virtual bank account with a debit card,” said Kyle Chaikin, president of Chaikin Pools Inc. in Farmingdale, N.Y., who has the card and instituted it with his employees for the past season.

One category of prepaid debit cards is specifically designed for payroll purposes. The employer makes a direct deposit into the debit-card account in lieu of a paycheck. Employees then are allowed one free withdrawal per pay period. The user is  charged a fee for subsequent transactions.

“It’s just like getting cash to the employee, but you’re handing this debit card out,” said Lawrence Caniglia, executive director of NESPA.

Offered through Trio Debit Card Services, the NESPA program exempts card-holders from several of the fees often associated with these products, group officials explain. Each employee can receive one card free of the normal sign-up fees. In addition, every holder receives a free companion card, which can be given to a relative or friend. This establishes a secondary account that can be periodically replenished using money from the primary card.

“We think it’s going to work very well, particularly here in the Northeast, where we have a lot of seasonal workers,” Caniglia said. “They come from Latin America or the Islands, and they’re only here a few months a year. If they need to send money to their families while they’re here, they can put it right on the companion card to their families with no transaction fee.”

NESPA organizers say the card will help eliminate common inconveniences faced by employees who can’t open a bank account, along with the managers trying to pay them. Workers wouldn’t have to leave the site early on payday to receive and cash a check. It also would save on check-cashing fees. Seasonal workers can use the card to purchase airline tickets to and from the States, rather than asking employers to put it on the company card.

While prepaid debit cards are increasing in popularity, they also have caused some controversy with a number of consumers groups, who say the cards are accompanied by steep fees. But the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association says that not all cards charge the same, with some being reasonable and others not. Through the NESPA program, several of the fees are waived. Chaikin said the average user pays about $10 a month in fees.

Trio representatives will be exhibiting at the Atlantic City Pool and Spa Show later this month.