Feb. 10, 2012
BOSTON — Are Massachusetts taxpayers' dollars paying for liquor, lottery tickets and cigarettes? Republican lawmakers are putting pressure on Gov. Deval Patrick to overhaul what items publicly funded EBT cards can be used to purchase.
The problem came to the fore in an October 2010 Boston Herald exposé that found that some electronic benefits transfer card holders were using the cards to buy alcohol, lottery tickets and even wholly non-food items such as underwear from Victoria's Secret.
Part of the confusion is there are two programs on the card, Tarr explained: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is federal, and cash assistance from the state. Card holders can cash out the state funds and then use them however they want — "anything goes," said state Rep. Shaunna O'Connell of Taunton.
A commission investigating abuses has a reporting deadline of April 1, said state Sen. Bruce Tarr, who accused the governor of slowing the process by delaying naming a beneficiaries' representative to the commission. "A meeting has been tentatively scheduled so fortunately we seem to be moving forward."
Tarr and O'Connell have sponsored legislation to close the loopholes.
The economy-related increase in the number of EBT recipients makes fixing the system even more crucial, Tarr said. "About 800,000-plus people are using the card. … That's a very large demand on our resources. If they need it, they need it [but] we have to have integrity in the system so we can help people that really need it and not help the people that are abusing it."
"We need this money for the people who need it the most," O'Connell agreed.
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