LePage plans deeper investigation into EBT card fraud

AUGUSTA — Using existing resources within the Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Paul LePage will launch an investigation into potential fraud of EBT cards.

Speaking to State House reporters on Thursday, LePage said that initial conversations with DHHS officials and law enforcement have shown him the problem is “far bigger than I would ever, ever have imagined.” He said early indications reveal fraud that would be measured “not in the thousands” but in seven digits.

“EBT cards are intended to help children and families that are in need,” LePage said. “So I’m going to take it upon the administration to push a major investigation into how EBT cards are being used.”

Electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards are debit cards that are regularly loaded with benefits from one of several government assistance programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children program.

The announcement came on the heels of another from the governor, that he would introduce a bill in the upcoming session with the purpose of limiting the use of EBT cards to essential items. Currently, cash benefits distributed to EBT card holders through the TANF program can be withdrawn from ATM machines.

LePage said that some Mainers are abusing that benefit by using the cash to buy cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets and other goods of no material benefit. There have also been incidents in recent years to suggest EBT cards are being traded for drugs, he said.

The governor said he would also try to implement photo identification on EBT cards to make it harder for anybody but the cardholder to access benefits. Other than that, details on the governor’s efforts to reform the EBT program remained sketchy. LePage said his policy team is still hammering out the specifics of his proposals.

“There’s going to be a lot of information coming out,” he said. “I wish I could give it all to you now, but I just want to make you aware there’s going to be a lot of work done on EBT cards.”

Democrats and advocates for low-income Mainers have said they take any fraudulent use of public assistance seriously, but accuse LePage of raising the issue to score political points. Actual incidences of welfare fraud and abuse are small compared to the number of recipients who use the benefits properly, they say.

They also argue that state money and political energy should be spent on finding ways to help Mainers out of poverty, not sniffing out cases of fraud that — in the bigger picture — are few and far between.

In the Democrats’ weekly radio address, the text of which was released Thursday, Sen. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, cautioned against assuming the worst about welfare recipients.

“We may not be able to fix all the problems in the world, but we can provide a good, hot meal to someone who is hungry and provide a warm place to stay to someone who is alone, lonely and cold,” he said. “And we can do this without judgment, scorn or suspicion.”

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PAUL MATTSON's picture

http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_politics/2013/12/it_s

The head of the state welfare department, under fire from the feds and lawmakers, is resisting calls to temporarily shut down a new program of putting photos on EBT cards after thousands of food-stamp passes failed to reach their rightful owners.

Commissioner Stacey Monahan said the state is still tracking down some of the more than 7,500 welfare recipients who had their new photo-embossed cards shipped back to Department of Transitional Assistance offices as “undeliverable” last week.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Lets get our priorities strait..............

LePage needs to get his priorities strait. He's acting like its just been announced that EBT cards, SNAP, or food stamps, what ever you want to call them, are being abused. It would appear this is news to him.
I have never in my life received food stamps. I have on numerous occasions been offered a deal on food stamps. It's been happening as long as I can remember, I have seen different methods of cheating and seen different methods of catching the thieves. It's nothing new, and I'm sure beyond any doubt that LePage is aware of it too. Could it be that now, LePage has decided to fight this rampant abuse of the welfare system, all twenty-four cases reported last year, for personal reasons? Could it be that this is just the most visible and most understood form of welfare fraud, to take on in an election year? I mean, attacking medicaid expansion, the failure caused by DHHS to provide rides for Medicaid patients, the failure of DHHS to secure the twenty million dollar federal subsidy for the mental health system, those types of disasters aren't as easily understood as EBT. EBT cards are federally subsidized funding intended for children and families in need. Just how much of the Federal money did they say LePage borrowed to help pay nine hundred thousand dollars for this phoney consultation to boost his visions of denying thousands of children and families health insurance coverage.
It's starting to get more and more difficult to determine just exactly who it is with their fingers in the cookie jar. Have no fear, Paul LePage is putting everything he has into stopping the gross injustice of using EBT cards for iegal purchases. Combating all twenty four cases of EBT cards turning up in drug arrests last year. If there's one thing we can all feel good about, it's that the Governor has all his priorities strait, as well as his eyes peeled for that next photo opp.................

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

He is pulling

a Reagan end run like he did against Ford and lost....lets attack the, welfare queens, the little guy, strategy. This demagoguery is going to bite him in the arse hard.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Political distraction from his dirty laundry

“There’s going to be a lot of information coming out,” he said. “I wish I could give it all to you now, but I just want to make you aware there’s going to be a lot of work done on EBT cards.”

SMOKE Screens, and him trying to blow it up Mainers arses...for the Federal monies for those EBT's will be untouchable since Americans have the right to freedom.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Without judgment scorn or suspicion

What conservatives are telling us now is that they want the poor to be taken care of . They are not selfish really. But they want it to come from charities and not from government. And why not. If people are desperate enough and you are a charity you can coerce them into adopting your religious, philosophical or political beliefs. You may even be able to influence their vote. And if there are enough desperate poor people and you are a wealthy employer you can get people to work for peanuts. More than one great fortune has been built on that principle in this country. It seems that the government just giving away money and getting nothing in return but a people with a chance at dignity and upward mobility is such a waste.

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