AUGUSTA - The Maine Department of Health and Human Services released information at a press conference Monday that shows the rampant use of EBT cards to spend taxpayer-funded welfare benefits out of state.
Popular destinations where cards have been used include Florida, Las Vegas, California, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.
In 2013, nearly 365,000 transactions occurred outside of Maine, totaling $13.9 million spent out of state. New Hampshire has been the primary beneficiary: in 2013, more than $9 million of Maine welfare benefits poured into the Granite State's coffers.
Even more alarming is that EBT cards are being used at places that many working-class Maine families can only dream of going. "Just last year, more than 28,000 transactions were made in Florida, totaling more than $800,000. Many of these transactions were made in the Kissimmee/Orlando area, which includes Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios," said Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. "In the last three years, a total of 1,857 EBT transactions have occurred in Hawaii, St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and more than 16,000 transactions took place in California."
The top five cities for Maine EBT card use outside of New England in 2013 have been Orlando, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
"Maine taxpayers are outraged with their hard-earned tax dollars being used this way-and they should be,'' Mayhew said. "The best way to ensure that our limited tax dollars are helping people who live in Maine is to eliminate the ability to use an EBT card out of state. If Mainers are eligible for this benefit, spending should occur within Maine, not fuel other State's economies."
Governor LePage has proposed legislation that would disallow purchases within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families outside of Maine. The full legislature has yet to vote on the bill. "Democrats say that this is only a small amount of fraud and abuse. That's like saying it's okay to steal just a little," said Governor LePage. "Democrats and the press can argue about what an acceptable percentage of welfare fraud is, but our Administration is working to stop 100 percent of welfare fraud."
Additionally, the Governor has submitted three other bills that would: • Prevent the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits for alcohol,tobacco products, lottery tickets and bail; • Require job-ready TANF applicants to look for three jobs before receiving welfare benefits; and • Removes state exemptions allowing TANF recipients to get around the federal work requirement.
"It is our hope that common sense will prevail over party-line politics as the legislature votes on these bills,'' Mayhew said.