Massachusetts’ EBT card holders are spending welfare cash in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, while patronizing or at least accessing ATMs in liquor and tobacco stores, beauty salons and tattoo parlors.
In response to my public records request, the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) turned over 18 months of EBT records from Jan. 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016.
In all, the taxpayers shelled out $321 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to welfare recipients.
In the 18-month period, more than $7.3 million in Bay State welfare funds were spent outside the state, including $2.4 million in New Hampshire, $780,000 in Connecticut and $549,000 in the Sunshine State of Florida.
In that period, Mass. EBT cards were also used 1,335 times in Puerto Rico to access more than $110,000 in welfare cash.
State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) has long campaigned in the Legislature against welfare fraud and abuse.
“I continue to advocate for an end to out-of-state usage and to limit cash access,” she said. “Taxpayer-funded EBT cards should not be paying for vacations. The state should revoke cards used out of state.”
Another $134,000 in welfare cash was accessed in the cities and towns around Walt Disney World in Florida, more than $11,000 in Las Vegas and another $2,289 in Hawaii.
Welfare recipients also accessed $2,054 in Atlantic City, N.J., and another $2,144 in Uncasville, Conn., home of the Mohegan Sun casino, including $600 accessed at 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd.
TANF benefits, which are basically cash, are supposed to go only to the state’s neediest residents. The program was formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
EBT cards also provide money from a different fund, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be known as food stamps.
Eligibility for TANF benefits enables a recipient to access a number of other welfare programs, including Mass Health.
The records provided by the DTA do not differentiate between actual spending at the businesses, or whether those on the dole just accessed ATMs at the addresses.
In the 18-month period, state welfare recipients accessed nearly $100,000 at liquor stores across New England. At one liquor store in Lawrence, there were three separate $500 withdrawals on a single day in January 2015.
Welfare recipients accessed $7,800 at a liquor store in Springfield, $7,706 at one in Lakeville and $6,586 at another package store in Fall River.
State law prohibits those on the dole from squandering their handouts on alcohol, tobacco or tattoos. Spending on pet food is allowed; welfare recipients accessed over $2,200 at various pet stores over the 18-month period.
In response to an inquiry, the DTA said that if the agency suspects welfare cash is being spent on prohibited items, a “site inspection” is conducted.
“If an establishment is determined to be predominantly an establishment which sells liquor or other prohibited items,” a DTA spokesman said in an email, “DTA will block EBT transactions from being accepted through their (point of sale) system and/or any ATM on their premises.”
The spokesman said DTA recorded 308 “intentional program violations” by various stores over the 18 months.
“Many of these purchases are illegal,” O’Connell said, “and should cause cards to be suspended.”
Other findings from the DTA’s public records:
–$22,700 in welfare funds for “needy families” was accessed at stores with the words “Tobacco,” “Smoke,” “Cigar” and “Cigarette” in their names, including stores in Pineville and Cut Off, La., Moultrie, Ga., as well as stores in North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.
–Almost $10,000 was accessed in one tobacco store in Dorchester alone.
–About $19,000 cash was accessed in beauty stores and nail salons, mostly in Boston and other urban areas in Massachusetts, but also including four in Brooklyn and two in the Bronx.
–More than two dozen bars, clubs and taverns have recorded EBT transactions totaling $7,200 with lounges in Lawrence and Springfield leading the way.
–An EBT tab of $14 was run up at a Pennsylvania lounge called “the Swingers’ Club.”
–More than $4,500 in state welfare benefits were accessed at one jewelry store in Springfield, Conn.
–Massachusetts welfare recipients spent nearly $6,000 in the Virgin Islands, including $1,374 at a single restaurant in St. Thomas. A woman who answered the phone there Monday said the restaurant has an ATM.
Follow the money
The state’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) turned over 18 months of EBT records from Jan. 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016, and this is what the data showed:
$134,000 in welfare cash was accessed in the cities and towns around Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
$110,404 in Puerto Rico
$11,404 in Las Vegas
$2,054 in Atlantic City, N.J.
$2,289 in Hawaii
$2,144 in Uncasville, Conn., home of theMohegan Sun casino
Listen to Howie from 3-7 p.m. on WRKO AM 680. See a link to the EBT database of liquor Stores, Beauty Shops, and Bars where EBT cardholders are accessing welfare cash at HowieCarrShow.com.
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