Mainers using EBT cash in unusual places

January 19th, 2014 by admin Leave a reply »

AUGUSTA, Maine — They were at smoke shop ATMs when they used their welfare cards to withdraw cash. At race tracks. At tattoo parlors. Even at Disney World-area resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

One example after another of apparent spending by Maine’s welfare recipients was contained in data released by the state last week.

Lawmakers immediately called it misuse. Abuse. Fraud.

But it can also be called something else: completely legal.

At the center of the controversy are Maine’s EBT cards — electronic benefit cards issued to the poor and loaded with money they qualify for, including TANF benefits (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, often informally called welfare).

Maine recently instituted rules prohibiting TANF recipients from withdrawing money or using the cards at certain places — specifically, no casinos, liquor stores or strip clubs.

However, under the rules, recipients are still allowed to buy whatever they want elsewhere, even if what they buy elsewhere is the same thing they would have bought in one of the prohibited places, including alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

In fact, a brochure for TANF recipients and the website that recipients use to access their accounts both make one thing clear: “Any item may be purchased using your cash benefit account.”

It’s an allowance that has been around as long as the TANF program itself.

Some say it’s time for that to end.

“Obviously, the public is outraged to think these abuses are going on and there has been no action here in this state Legislature to try and curb this growing problem,”

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