Midnight at Community Credit Union in Lewiston

Near midnight on the final day of January. One month is about to fade into history and another will be born.

The men and women milling outside Community Credit Union on Pine Street in Lewiston are keenly aware of this. Welfare benefits come out on the first of the month, and in the age of technology, that means one second after midnight.

At 11:30 p.m., it didn't look like much at all. One young man leaned against the ATM and punched buttons on his smartphone. It was a cold night and a slushy one, and he looked like just another downtown kid who might be waiting for a ride.

At 11:45, two other men showed up on foot and fell in line without a word. Minutes later, a minivan pulled up and a group of people got out to mill around under the yellow security lights. At 11:50, two women walked over from a side street. They surveyed the line briefly and continued chatting as they waited for midnight.

Two men with hoodies walked up Pine street and kept their distance from the others. A cab pulled to a stop across Pine Street and two young women got out. By the final seconds of January, the crowd outside Community Credit Union had grown to more than a dozen. The group was equal parts men and women. None appeared to be older than 25.

In the old days, people who collected government assistance had to wait for food stamps or a benefit check to arrive in the mail. The check came along at the first of the month, too, but not with anything like the speed of today's benefits. A parent from a family of six, for example, might see up to $856 in Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) load into his or her account at the stroke of midnight. That money can be withdrawn with a Maine EBT card — electronic benefit transfer — and spent any way the recipient desires.

Police and others began to notice long lines outside the credit around midnight on the last night of each month.

So when midnight strikes at the ATM on Pine Street, you might expect it to be chaos. But it's not. When the hour came, it was almost orderly.

The young man at the front of the line slid in his card, punched in his numbers and walked away with a handful of bills, counting it as he went.

The second young man got his money and immediately got on his cell phone to make a call.

The group in the minivan got their money and drove off. The two men in hoodies walked lazily toward Sabattus Street afterward.

In the 15 minutes following the change of months, the ATM outside Community Credit Union looked like a ticket agency before a big show. People came with their cards and left with cash. They came from all directions, mostly on foot. At 20 past the hour, a young man on a bicycle pedaled up, withdrew money without getting off his bike and wheeled off through the slush toward downtown.

All was quiet again on Pine Street. But not so at nearby bars and at the 7-Eleven, where a spending frenzy marked the beginning of February.

It's not just Lewiston, of course. The first-of-the-month frenzy is a well-known phenomenon just about everywhere in the nation. Songs have been written about it. Many folks cling to the idea that crime spikes in the first few days of any given month, the result of a welfare benefits spending spree.

Simply observing the monthly ritual at Community Credit Union early on that Feb. 1, there was no way to tell whether anyone was actually using an EBT card or, if they were, how much a user received in cash and what their plans were for the money. Police say there is ample evidence that some EBT card holders use their welfare benefits to buy drugs. Drug investigators say they often see a single drug trafficker in possession of several EBT cards belonging to others, the assumption being that those EBT cards were handed over to pay off debts.

Perhaps no one gets as close a view of the situation as local store clerks. Anything that can be purchased with a regular debit or credit card can also be purchased with an EBT card loaded with TANF or ASPIRE (Additional Support for People in Retraining and Development) benefits. Locally, most stores accept those cards. Some, however, do not.

"Some people get very irate when told that the store doesn't take the EBT card," said one local store clerk. "I've been called stupid and told that everyone accepts the card. People will come in and try to buy alcohol, cigarettes, blunts (cigars) or blunt wraps.

"Yet another time, a woman came in, walked to the beer cooler, grabbed a six-pack of Bud Light 16-ounce bottles, brought them to the counter, then asked for a pack of Newport 100s and a pack of Marlboros. I rang it in and told her the total. Again with the EBT card. I told her that we don't accept EBT. She goes to the ATM, withdraws cash using the card and comes back to the counter to pay. Just then her boyfriend comes in and tells her to 'get a couple of those Dutch Masters.'"

The clerk asked that he not be identified so as not to embroil the store in controversy. But he said what he sees as rampant abuse of the system prompted him to complain to his state representative. He said the representative forwarded the complaint to the Department of Health and Human Services and assured the clerk in a note that welfare funds do not mean endless spending.

"Once the money runs out," the email read, "they don't get any more that month."

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

Something to Consider

Now, I am not saying that fraud does not happen, because let's face it, it does. However, we all need to take this video with a grain of salt, why, well let me explain...

1. On Feb. 10, 2012 SJ posted this same video with a date stamp of Feb. 28, 2012... Once I commented on it the video was removed from the original post and no comment from SJ staff. The link to the discussion follows: http://www.sunjournal.com/comment/93429#comment-93429

2. How do we know what time it really is in the video? The voice claims it is midnight but how can we be sure, there is no recorded time stamp and it seems there is a lot of careful editing in this video between video and still images. This time of year where it gets dark early, this video could have been taken anytime from 7pm til 5am.

Nick Adams's picture

Or in other stores the next

Or in other stores the next day using it wisely, to make sure their family will make it until the next month.

No kidding there isn't rampant spending all month, but if they use it all up right then and there on Drugs/alcohol/tobacco etc. Of course they won't get anymore, but that's money the taxpayers have to pay to them and this is what it's used for. I know, not everyone does this... but I'm gonna throw a number out there, not that it may be accurate but to what I've seen and as a guesstimate about 25% abuse the system with these somehow. (Energy Drinks should be another one not allowed)

 's picture

put a decimal point in front

put a decimal point in front of that number, and you'd still be exaggerating. Abuse occurs, but nothing on the scale you suggest, it's just you don't notice all the people who use their benefits wisely, you just pick up on the relatively few cases there are.

Nick Adams's picture

Yes, you're probably right

Yes, you're probably right for the ones who have abused it consistently. I meant anyone who has ever had it and the abuse I meant even if it was just one time they did it. Out of that maybe 1-2% abuse it on a severe and consistent basis. Again, just so we're clear, I am just giving a possibility of these numbers (I have no statistics just guesstimates

 's picture

Naturally, Speaker Nutting

Naturally, Speaker Nutting doesn't have to go this route to get his ill gotten gains, he just strolls to the bank to collect part of the MILLION his company stole from the State.

Bob Wright's picture

"so they can purchase the

"so they can purchase the food they have gone without the past week"

Lauren, they always get a job!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Thats nothing

I remember years ago I was the yard man for Country Kitchen ( I drove that funny looking truck that moved trailers around). There used to be one of those green storage mailboxes the post office uses right on the corner of Park and Birch. on the first of the month you would think it was a ticket window at a sold out concert. Then about a block up the street was a mail man scared to death.
AH, Thoae were the good old days

Fred Stone's picture

Reform

And people wonder why Paul Lepage is upset with welfare and the millions of dollars wasted on deadbeats.

I am a 72 year old retiree and work 25-30 hours a week to supplement my income, and yes I know some people are going to say I am working on a job that some younger person could take, but the trouble is if you asked them to work they have a list of excuses why they can't.It appears i'm the dumb one here, maybe I should say the hell with it and reap the benefits just like them, but there is one thing stopping me it's called "pride".

DAVE GUDAS's picture

What a relief!

Glad to see that no young, able bodied, cigarette smoking, smart phone using benefit recipients were harmed during the filming of this clip.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Fortunately for them, they

Fortunately for them, they didn't have to get up the next morning to head off to work!

Lauren Hebert's picture

meanwhile...

to balance what i said earlier... meanwhile the responsible are lined up at superwalmart checkout at that hour so they can purchase the food they have gone without the past week

Lauren Hebert's picture

PPretty simple; votes purchased

Clearly an example of votes being purchased to perpetuate a regime of "leaders."
Theft from taxayers by a .gov an an "investment" to keeps its power, as well as theft from those who actually need the benfits.

ALBERT CAMPOBASSL's picture

Free money! Everything is

Free money! Everything is free in America.
America what a country.
What could you possibly need that couldn't wait till the next day?
Don't these storys make your blood boil?

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...