AUGUSTA - The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has implemented a new rule to detect and deter EBT card trafficking.
Under the new requirement, the Department's Office for Family Independence (OFI) can withhold a fifth EBT replacement card within a 12 month period until the client makes contact with the Department and provides an explanation for the volume of requested cards.
"This is another common sense measure to protect benefits for those who are truly eligible and to guard against fraud and abuse of the welfare benefit. When someone requests numerous replacement EBT cards over the course of a year, that should be a red flag prompting greater review of that case," said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
Once the threshold has been exceeded, at the fifth replacement request, OFI will notify a household in writing informing them of a hold on their card until the head of the household contacts them with an explanation. If OFI is not contacted, a replacement card will not be issued and the case will be referred to the Fraud, Investigation and Recovery Unit (FIRU).
In 2015, there were more than 140 requests for replacement cards that would exceed the threshold. An example of this abuse is detailed in an August 2015 news article that explains that six EBT cards found in a Lewiston, Maine drug bust had been "reissued 9, 12, 13, 15, 18 and 47 times, respectively."
"For our safety net programs to work as intended, tax-payer funded welfare benefits must be used to support vulnerable adults and children with the purchase of basic necessities as well as to support people on the road to self-sufficiency. With law enforcement continuing to confiscate EBT cards in drug busts and with millions in Maine EBT card transactions occurring in known drug dealing cities such as Brooklyn, Bronx, Lowell, and Hartford, it is critical that we adopt common sense reforms to address any weakness in our regulations that opens the door to fraud including the trafficking in EBT cards for drugs and cash," said Commissioner Mayhew.
If the individual is unable to explain the situation or it appears to be indicative of trafficking, OFI will refer the household to FIRU for investigation. During this time, OFI will issue a replacement card to any household so it can continue to have access to benefits while an investigation is underway and while a hearing is pending. The state will transfer the funds from the old card to the newly issued card. If an intentional program violation is found after an investigation by the FIRU, established disqualification procedures will be followed. DHHS would like to initiate contact with the individual sooner than the fifth card, but the Federal government will not allow states to further restrict the automatic issuance of replacement EBT cards.
View full rule - http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/documents/OFI-Section-7-777.docx