We’ve seen several states run by Republicans launch major investigations to find voter fraud that they claim is rampant only to come up almost entirely empty. Maine Gov. Scott LePage decided to give it a try with welfare fraud and — surprise, surprise — finds only a tiny problem. But like always, they announce it as though it supported their initial claims.
Gov. Paul LePage released information on Tuesday that he says demonstrates that welfare benefits in Maine are being abused. But the data LePage cited to make his case for abuse represent a tiny fraction of all transactions involving electronic benefits cards issued to the state’s welfare recipients.
The data were compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services, based on transaction records of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, card holders. EBT cards are loaded with cash benefits paid out by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Recipients can use the EBT card like a debit card at participating shops and retailers, or use the EBT cards to get cash from ATMs. EBT cards are also loaded with benefits from the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps.
The data released by the governor show more than 3,000 transactions from Jan. 1, 2011, through Nov. 15, 2013, at smoke shops, and more than 650 transactions at bars, sports pubs and strip clubs. Those transactions include purchases at the check-out counter and withdrawals from on-premises ATMs. The state does not track what is purchased in EBT transactions.
Wow! More than 3000 transactions! And now…math!
There are nearly 224,000 active EBT cards in Maine, according to DHHS spokesman John Martins. That figure includes cards issued to people receiving benefits as well as people who are no longer enrolled in TANF or SNAP but still carry a balance on their cards.
According to Martins, there were about 50,000 EBT transactions per month, or nearly 1.8 million in the nearly 36-month surveyed time period. So the 3,701 transactions in question amount to only about two-tenths of 1 percent of total purchases and ATM withdrawals.
That’s it! Reopen the debtors’ prisons!