Local businesses don't take EBT cards, but have ATM machines

Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that statistics compiled by a state agency showed thousands of electronic benefits transactions occurred at Maine businesses, demonstrating the abuse of cards used to derive state welfare benefits, including nearly 400 at several Twin Cities' establishments.

MORE COVERAGE: LePage releases data showing EBT cards used at bars and smoke shops

But when the Sun Journal quizzed business managers and owners at local businesses cited in LePage's news release, they all denied accepting the cards at their registers. They all said they have had ATM machines on the premises of their businesses at some point.

In his written statement, LePage's office says the numbers show “thousands of transactions involving the misuse of taxpayer-funded welfare benefits on EBT cards issued in Maine.”

Among the businesses listed in a spreadsheet compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services and highlighted by the governor's office are 93 transactions at Roopers stores in Auburn and Lewiston that sell retail discount beverages, pizza and sandwiches, as well as cold foods and household goods.

According to the list, 298 transactions involving EBT cards were conducted at two Discount Smoke Shop locations in Lewiston. One transaction took place at Gritty McDuff's restaurant and bar in Auburn where EBT cards are not accepted at the register and an ATM machine was removed last year.

In his written statement, LePage centers his criticism on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF benefits, where recipients can withdraw cash from ATM machines using their EBT cards.

“This is a difficult issue to address when you have an EBT card that is supposed to be used for a specific use and you can get a cash benefit off of it and use it in any way,” said Adrienne Bennett, LePage's press secretary.

She said a debate is needed to sort through the issue. The governor will be introducing a bill that addresses the possible abuses that remain, she said.

The federal government prohibits use of the cards in certain locations, and DHHS introduced legislation aimed at mirroring federal law. Now, under state and federal law, welfare recipients are barred from using EBT cards for transactions at a retail store where at least half of the gross sales come from the sale of liquor, gambling facilities and strip clubs.

The law doesn't specify whether the use of ATM machines at such businesses are prohibited. And the law is silent on smoke shops that sell primarily tobacco products.

The law puts the onus on the welfare benefits recipient, not on the business owner.

“There are some loopholes still,” Bennett said. “How do we fix those loopholes?”

Steve Roop, who owns four retail stores in Lewiston and Auburn, said the governor's news release is misleading, suggesting his stores accept the cards when they don't. He has no control over how customers use the ATM machines in his stores.

Roop said he has the machines in his stores in hopes of avoiding “astronomical” processing fees incurred by retail stores that accept credit and debit cards.

He said he doesn't doubt fraud occurs in the EBT system. He said he believes only grocery stores should be accepting EBT cards at their registers.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This is just the beginning folks........

This is just the beginning folks, we have a whole year of these campaign stunts to endure. What's it going to be next? Maybe he'll start cracking down on to many cars being involved in auto accidents. Desperation is a funny thing............

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

The silly season

Nobody wants EBT money spent on cigarettes and booze. We all agree the money should feed hungry people. That being said, the governor for all his efforts to prove fraud could only come up with 3,000 instances in three years. This is out of 224,000 cards. What's more. in most of these instances, we are not talking about EBT cards being used to buy tobacco or liquor, we are talking about the cards being used in ATM machines in establishments that sell the stuff. We don't really know if they bought milk or beer. The governor is just making an assumption. As usual he painting the poor as lazy drunks. Maybe he is personalizing anecdotes from his own biography a little too much. Add to that the fact that rules have already been amended to prevent this from happening and it means the governor is talking ancient history not current policy. In a recently published book, a Washington insider said that when politicians get in front of a microphone it has the same effect as the moon on werewolves. I guess we are in that season again.

Let's not be naive. Do you

Let's not be naive. Do you really think that everyone who goes into a smoke shop or liquor store ATM to get cash is going to walk out of there to go to the farmer's market to buy nice, fresh vegetables for their evening meal? Or even most? Half? Some? I'd wager maybe 8 in ten are getting the cash in order to buy that shop's products. Of course there's no proof unless they have surveillance footage, but logic and human nature would say this is very likely true.

However, it's not fraud. It's a waste of our money and these people need a good lesson in money management and common sense, but the law does not say what the EBT money can be used for after it is extracted from the ATM. Otherwise, it would not be convertible to cash in such a way. Unwise? yes. Wasteful and thoughtless? Yes. Illegal? No. So as long at those stores are not taking cards they are not allowed to accept, there's no story here.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

3,000 instances in three years. Exactly

1000 a year on average and some dumbo is saying that LePage is saving millions....that is a far stretched out turdif I have ever heard one...

But then again you will always have the tbaggers/repuibs stretching the the truth or creating no truths...

All this is, is just that, busy work for LePage because he has nothing, in his small tool box of of dimwitted ideas. He gets these lame brain thoughts from others like Scott Walker and his ilk, since they are worthless in helping or wanting to help others, but just assiting corporations and donors to their war chest cache for lifetime jobs.

JAMES LAWRENCE's picture

good for you gov

good for you gov

Good for what? Lying and

Good for what? Lying and misleading the public with imprecise statistics? For making Maine businesses (you know, what Maine is open for) look bad by accusing them of breaking the law without actual proof? Good for him for being an idiot? Well, okay.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Oui`Lepage is;

Vous êtes stupide...dedeb....Stomme klootzak! Estie de con!

Mis use of ebt cards

Paul Lepage is just using this issue to toot his own political horn!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Of course, what's a few

Of course, what's a few million bucks here and there of fraudulent use of taxpayer money?

CLAUDETTE THERRIAULT's picture

Yes, there is abuse

But to come up with these figures as fraud because of where TANF recipients get cash from their ebt card???? Case and point. Some may not have transportation. A smoke shop is walking distance to their apartment. They get rent money, return home and pay the rent!!

He is grasping at straws and is just acting like the lunatic he is.

MEGAN PARKS's picture

Proof?

I am as certain as anyone else that there is fraud in the EBT system. This "evidence" proves nothing at all. Someone might never use their EBT card anywhere except at a legitimate bank ATM but then turn around and use that money to buy a supply of drugs or booze. They aren't included in this 'proof'. To assume that just because the cards were used at an ATM in an establishment that sells disallowed items, does not mean the money was used for those items. You want to 'fix' it? Go to a voucher system where X amount of value can only be used at a specific location. NO cash involved in any way. Except production expenses might be much higher.

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