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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Welfare Cash Withdrawals Being Used At Amusement Parks, Strip Clubs And Liquor Stores

By Susan Duclos

A little late on this one, since the original investigation was reported on in February, but it is still relevant.

Electric Benefit Transfers (EBT) are being made at amusement parks, strip clubs and liquor stores, according to an 2News I-Team investigation into over 180,000 EBT ATM withdrawals in Massachusetts from July.

Before getting to their findings,  let's look at what EBT's are and what they are supposed to be used for:

  • EBT is used in all states to issue food stamp benefits to recipients.
  • Many states also issue cash benefits such as TANF using EBT.
  • Recipients are issued an “EBT Card” similar to a bank ATM or debit card to receive and use their food stamp and/or cash benefits.
  • Benefits are automatically deposited onto the card by the State.
  • Recipients with food stamp benefits can use their EBT Card for eligible food purchases at most grocery stores and some other retailers. Food stamps can only be used for food and for plants and seeds to grow food for your household to eat. Food stamps cannot be used to buy:

  • - Any nonfood item, such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, and household supplies, grooming items, toothpaste, and cosmetics.
    - Alcoholic beverages and tobacco.
    - Vitamins and medicines.
  • Recipients with cash benefits can use their EBT Card like cash for purchases and cash-back with purchases at grocery stores and at most ATMs (automated teller machines).

Keeping the descriptions in mind, the 2News investigation's findings suggest rampant abuse and a lack of oversight that is concerning and disturbing, considering it is taxpayer's money that is being used:

$25 Million is taken out in cash each month and a 22News I-Team investigation reveals some potential loopholes in the system.  

Amusement Parks, Strip Clubs and Liquor Stores. 

The 22News I-Team went through more than 180,000 EBT ATM withdrawals in Massachusetts from July.  We discovered those kind of establishments are where tens of thousands of dollars are being taken out each month.  

"I think its appalling", says State Representative Shaunna O'Connell from Taunton. 

Representative O'Connell has served on two commission examining welfare abuse in the state.

"DTA (Division of Transitional Assistance) is not doing their job.  They are not performing the core responsibilities of oversight verification and fraud prevention and investigation.  They just have no interest whatsoever in protecting the tax payer dollars and overseeing this program like they're supposed to", says O'Connell.

More than $2000 in EBT cash was taken out at an ATM inside a liquor store on State Street in Springfield in July.  While there is no way to tell if that money was actually spent inside, just 200 feet away; a bank ATM where money could have been withdrawn.  

The 22News I-Team found more than $38,000 taken out at liquor and package stores in Western Massachusetts in one month. In the state it's much more.  On average, more than one million dollars a year in EBT money is taken out at liquor or package stores.  The state gives out around $30 Million a month in this program, $25 Million is taken out in cash.  

"We have got to get a hold on where this cash is going", says Representative O'Connell.
Division of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Daniel Curley resigned from his post on February 1st.  An internal report found that 47,000 families receiving taxpayer-funded benefits are unaccounted for and nearly $30 million in food stamp money went to recipients who weren't eligible.

The investigation found more examples of the abuse:

 Our investigation uncovered people taking out EBT money at an IMAX movie theater in California, a pawn shop in Rhode Island, a strip club in Connecticut, sex novelty shops in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  Universal Studios Florida and Mount Rushmore, just to name a few.   

That is an investigation into one state, now multiply that by 50 (or 57 if you are Obama)  and we are talking about some welfare recipients using taxpayer money for uses that welfare was not intended for. Abusing the system and regulators not doing their jobs to prevent the abuses.

As of October 2012, welfare is the single biggest chunk of federal spending, above Social Security and basic defense spending.

Federal welfare spending has grown by 32 percent over the past four years, fattened by President Obama’s stimulus spending and swelled by a growing number of Americans whose recession-depleted incomes now qualify them for public assistance, according to numbers released Thursday.

Federal spending on more than 80 low-income assistance programs reached $746 billion in 2011, and state spending on those programs brought the total to $1.03 trillion, according to figures from the Congressional Research Service and the Senate Budget Committee.

Welfare benefits are supposed to be a helping hand, a temporary measure to help those that have lost their jobs or suffered some personal downfall. A stepping stone to help them get their feet back under them so they can support themselves and their families.

Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard earned money is being used in sex shops, liquor stores, movie theaters, amusement parks and strip clubs, instead of for food, rent, utilities and basic necessities.