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Jan 10 2014

Welfare Fraud as Rare as Voter Fraud

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!

21 comments

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  1. 1
    matty1

    Those transactions include purchases at the check-out counter and withdrawals from on-premises ATMs.

    So we don’t even know how many of those transactions were actually paying for ‘bad’ stuff, they could have gone into a nearby bar because it had a convenient cash point then used the cash to buy food. Myself when I’ve been on a limited budget for food I preferred to pay cash as it made it easy to know exactly how much I had left.

  2. 2
    Chiroptera

    Why, just the other day I saw someone at the supermarket use foodstamps to pay for caviar and champagne, then she got into her brand new BMW and drove a dead guy to the voting polls.

  3. 3
    khms

    So … how does this compare to Republican politicians convicted of some sort of fraud, corruption, or the like, I wonder?

  4. 4
    Synfandel

    What is a Welfare recipient who is addicted to nicotine to do? Just say no to tobacco?

    For most people, nicotine addiction doesn’t work that way. I don’t smoke and I’m not thrilled with the idea that my hard-earned taxes should be paying for someone else’s recreational substance habit, but it’s unrealistic to expect people to suddenly stop smoking without a lengthy and difficult cessation process that often requires medical help and usually involves repeated failures before final success, especially when they’re living with the stress of unemployment (or underemployment) and financial need.

    The most productive approach would be, in this order:

    1. Provide financial aid as needed in the short term to keep her out of poverty.

    2. Assuming she is able to work, help the recipient get on her feet and off of welfare through job search services, occupational training, fiscal management education, etc..

    3. When her life is back on track and she’s self-supporting and under less stress, offer smoking cessation help for the sake of her own health and to limit costs to the public health system.

  5. 5
    theschwa

    Let me see if have this right:

    A few people doing bad is not enough to significantly change the laws – only applies to gun owners and police.

    A few people doing bad warrants a massive, draconian overhaul of the law – applies to welfare and voting.

  6. 6
    Synfandel

    …and to limit costs to the public health system

    Sorry. Silly me. I’m still thinking like a parochial Canadian. I should have said to limit costs to the private insurance industry and make sure the seven-figure execs get their bonuses.

  7. 7
    troll

    It’s my impression that when most people talk about “welfare fraud” what they really mean is “some person I think is a worthless dirtbag is collecting welfare and I don’t like that”.

  8. 8
    magistramarla

    There was a big discussion about welfare fraud among the tp faithful who comment in my local paper this morning. They all seemed to be convinced that welfare recipients are unlawfully claiming “Illegals” as family members, thus ripping off the system.
    My daughter had to use food stamps for a while when the ex refused to pay child support. She had to file a ridiculous amount of paperwork. I’m sure that anyone trying to falsely claim a family member would have a very difficult time doing so. And, as soon as there was a court order in place for the ex to pay that measly $200 in child support, she was notified that she was no longer eligible for those food stamps.
    It seems to me that the states are keeping a fairly close watch on where those welfare dollars are going.

  9. 9
    Sally Stearns

    Check the article again, it wasn’t over an 18 month period, it was over a 30 month period, so .2% is actually inaccurate, it’s more like .1%

  10. 10
    gertzedek

    Of course, that assumes all these transactions were fraudulent. There’s plenty of incentive to stop by an ATM for cash if you’re using EBT (often, cashiers have to call up a manager to authorize an EBT sale, thereby causing an embarrassing disruption), and not all grocery stores have ATMs. Stop by the ATM in the smoke shop next door to the grocery store? Suddenly, that’s “fraud”!

  11. 11
    d.c.wilson

    The state does not track what is purchased in EBT transactions.

    So we don’t even know if what they purchased was something republicans would deem “inappropriate.” For all we know, some of these cigarette shops could also be selling sandwiches.

  12. 12
    Modusoperandi

    Laser focused on the economy.

  13. 13
    Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam

    Meanwhile, elsewhere in Maine, one Republican has really thrown that whole new “talk to women” thing the party is supposedly trying straight out the top-story window.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    tomcoward

    FWIW, Paul LePage is the governor of Maine. The firs time I heard his name I thought “good that a woman is running. Never heard of Paula Page, though. “

  16. 16
    escuerd

    Chiroptera @2:

    Why, just the other day I saw someone at the supermarket use foodstamps to pay for caviar and champagne, then she got into her brand new BMW and drove a dead guy to the voting polls.

    The liberal fraud machine is getting even more brazen than I imagined. Time was they’d at least wait for an election before driving dead people to the polls.

  17. 17
    democommie

    I see that the Florida drug testing for Welfare law was struck down. Meanwhile the state of NY has a bunch of idiots in the state house (including some democrats) who are trying to ram a bill through the lege to do the same thjng and meet the same fate. Morons.

    I get $15/month in EBT–I used to get $16 until those fucking assholes in D.C. decided to help me escape the doldrums of teh WELFAH. by cutting the benefits.

  18. 18
    had3

    But that’s 5.4 FRAUDULENT transactions every day, almost 1 every 4 hours. Are you expecting the good citizens of Maine to just idly stand by while every 4 hours a poor person commits fraud? That type of thought is what leads to the decay of the moral bedrock that the 10 commandments that built this country blah blah blah…

  19. 19
    caseloweraz

    @Subtract…

    Wow, that Erick Bennett of Maine is one piece of work. His own Web site contains this:

    “The Affordable Healthcare Act is not about healthcare, the Patriot Act is not about patriotism, Gay Marriage is not about marriage and the VAWA is not about violence against women. It is about disarming citizens.”

    Never has “blockquote” seemed so appropriate — following Shakespeare: “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things.”

    And the Web site does not validate. Two BODY tags… among other errors. The W3 Validator gave up after finding nine.

  20. 20
    stripeycat

    Hmmm. My first thought was that (at least here in the UK) pubs and off-licenses are often the only shops in poor areas, and/or are open longer hours than many “normal” shops. If it’s midnight and you’ve not eaten anything yet, or a twenty-minute walk to the nearest supermarket, buying snacks from anywhere open seems like a good idea.

  21. 21
    AsqJames

    Those 650 transactions in bars, sports bars and strip clubs could easily be accounted for by people who work in those locations and are receiving welfare due to poverty-level wages. In fact, knowing how poorly paid waiting, kitchen and bar work can be, I’m surprised the number isn’t higher just from that demographic. It’s especially unsurprising if you consider the potential for those workers to be single young women, working unsociable hours, who may not wish to use an ATM in a public place late at night.

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