The Right Opinion

EBT Abuse: The Cash-for-Drunkards Program

By Michelle Malkin · Jan. 11, 2013

From New York to New Mexico and across the dependent plains, welfare recipients are getting sauced on the public dime. Drunk, besotted, bombed. But while politicians pay lip service to cutting government waste, fraud and abuse, they're doing very little in practice to stop the EBT party excesses. Where's the compassion for taxpayers?

You see the signs everywhere: “We accept EBT.” Fast-food restaurants do. Clothing retailers do. Auto repair shops, liquor stores and even sushi joints are joining the club. “EBT” stands for the federal government's electronic benefits transfer card, which is intended to provide poor people with food stamps and cash assistance for basic necessities. The two separate programs were combined into one ATM-like card designed to reduce the “stigma” attached to Nanny State dependency, and – voila! – an entirely new method of mooching was born.

If the idea was to eliminate the embarrassment of life on the dole, the social justice crowd succeeded phenomenally. Last weekend, the New York Post blew the lid off scammers who brazenly swiped their EBT cards “inside Hank's Saloon in Brooklyn; the Blue Door Video porn shop in the East Village; The Anchor, a sleek SoHo lounge; the Patriot Saloon in TriBeCa; and Drinks Galore, a liquor distributor in The Bronx.” Out: Cash for clunkers. In: Cash for drunkards!

My home state of Colorado has seen similar abuse. Last year, local TV station 9NEWS reported that more than $40,000 was withdrawn from ATMs in metro-area liquor stores despite prohibitions against such spending. Colorado EBT users also splurged at Denver's Elitch Gardens amusement part, Disneyland, Universal Studios in Los Angeles and on the Las Vegas strip.

In New Mexico, Jim Scarantino of Watchdog.org reported that in just a three-month period, EBT cards were used at multiple liquor stores, girly bars, smoke shops and casinos both inside and outside the state. Californians are notorious EBT fraud artists; some $70 million in EBT funds were withdrawn from outside the state's borders over the past several years, including nearly $12 million taken out in Las Vegas. Watchdog.org kept tabs on government workers in Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin nabbed in EBT fraud rings and schemes.

Several state legislatures have barred EBT spending on these vices, along with tattoo parlors, lottery tickets and cigarettes. Last February, President Obama signed GOP-backed welfare reform measures into law aimed at closing the so-called “strip club loophole” and preventing welfare recipients from blowing their cash benefits on booze, porn and gambling. But that law doesn't go into effect until next year. And many politicians are just shrugging their shoulders, muttering “Whaddya gonna do?”

Here's a radical idea: How about making taxpayer protection a priority for once and, yes, getting serious about strengthening the stigma on bottomless entitlement dependency and entitlement abuse?

According to the Department of Agriculture, illegal food stamp use costs the public upward of $750 million a year. A report by the Government Accountability Institute last fall revealed that “few security measures are in place to monitor EBT card fraud. … Nationwide, the USDA has approximately 100 investigators policing over 200,000 authorized EBT retailers.” In Florida, the report noted, 63 investigators carry the burden of policing more than three million EBT users.

Excuse-makers for the welfare-takers emphasize that both eligibility fraud and EBT card trafficking fraud are minuscule. But a bottle here, a case there, a pole dance here, a lap dance there, and soon it all starts to add up. With food stamp rolls exploding under both Republican and Democratic administrations while enforcement resources shrink nationwide, EBT has taken on a whole new meaning: Exploitation of Broke Taxpayers. Shame.

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13 Comments

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Whaddya gonna do?? Make the damn things only work in grocery stores - period. Why do they dispense cash at all. All this needs is a serious overhaul by folks that want to provide help to people that really need it. The folks running the program now are recruiting new recipients, advertising the giveaway of free taxpayer dollars.

With this type of rampant waste and the failure of the Senate to even produce a budget --why do we send them any money at all? We must dismantle the Washington behemoth.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 1:12 AM

India in GA replied:

Darn right. Do people have no shame?!

Let's also get rid of the plastic EBT card and bring back those good old embarassing, gigantic paper food stamps that used to come in a booklet. My mother raised four of us children by herself in the 80's and 90's. She was told *several* times that she should quit her two jobs so she could "earn" more money on welfare. She had way too much self-respect to do that, but we did get food stamps for about 6 months. If Mama ever sent me to the store to get groceries, I would poke around until I could see that the lines were empty, so that no one but the cashier would see me paying with food stamps.

Also, you should be able to buy nothing but *basic staples* with food stamps. As far as I'm concerned, they should be used supplementaly to keep people from going hungry and NO MORE!

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 1:59 AM

READY4ACHANGE in ILLINOIS replied:

My mother was also raising 4 kids on her own - and there was a short time where we too were on food stamps. I was too embarassed to even go the store with my mother. These people today are just lazy free loaders! Sick!

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Sharon in Oregon replied:

Food (SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition) benefits only cover cold or frozen (no hot) food purchased in a grocery store. It does not cover alcohol, energy drinks, vitamins or supplements, or non-food items.

TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), or cash assistance, benefits are the benefits which can be misused, since it is straight up cash with no restriction on what the cash can purchase. However, it is not easy to qualify for TANF benefits, you must be actively looking for work while on TANF, and the cash assistance is short term only and very slight, ie, in the neighborhood of $400 for a family of four. How is that any different from a person blowing his/her SS check, which I've also seen plenty of? There will always be a certain percentage of irresponsibility among the populace.

This article is blowing the situation completely out of proportion, and Michelle is apparently being a pot-stirrer.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 3:34 AM

wjm in Colorado replied:

You are obviously so ignorant that you cannot see the problem of giving cash instead of food for the needy. Did you vote with the communists? Just keep your head in the sand, no problem here. Sharon, I find you a fool.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

Of course, it never occured to your liberal mind that those who blew their SS check paid into the system in order to have the right to waste it if they wanted to. These idiots who misuse EBT cards fraudently have normally never paid a penny into the system and probably never will. I worked for the Department of Childrens Services for a short time and it was a damn joke in how the system was run. They were servicing the fourth generation of some families and they had never worked a day in their lives. So don't try to feed us that liberal crap about a system that rewards laziness and stupidity on the taxpayers dime. I can't believe that you think the cost of the massive amount of fraud is nothing to be concerned about. Maybe its because you don't pay any taxes so its no skin off your back.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Poz in Ohio replied:

Sharon, You're forgetting that they changed the previous restrictions (those you mention re: hot food) and they CAN now purchase hot fast food at McDonald's, Wendy's, BK, etc. as well as at your local WalMart. Regardless, too many people are abusing this system and WE are all paying the price!
Frankly, I think almost all of us have stood in line behind someone using an EBT card that is eating steak, shrimp, and lobster while talking on their iphone, wearing designer clothing, etc. while we're pinching pennies to provide for our families... we are simply tired of these welfare cheats living off OUR income!!

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

How about sending the FCPB on the USDA, for food stamp integrity?"Make taxpayer protection a priority for once."FOWARD COMRADES!!!And Sharon (Oregon) you are delusional, if you deny the reality of the fraud & abuse going on!

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 6:40 AM

Sammy in Kansas said:

Maybe with a little more embarassment about a life on the dole there would be fewer people on the dole. Sharon, your'e an idiot!

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 10:08 AM

rippedchef in sc said:

after I saw that benefits in Pa included 200 phone minutes per month I simply gave up-it's over,the USA is lost-personal responsibility is code for "hater",people who are successful are demonized,sloth rewarded-it's like the whole damn country fell down the rabbit hole.Lock and load fellas-I'm taking care of me and mine

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 4:49 PM

Jim in Western NC said:

Admittedly, I'm fairly simple-minded, but it seems like an EBT Card abuse solution would include the following- 1.) EBT card will not purchase anything but food, gasoline, or basic non-prescription meds. 2.) Card holder must show ID or card must have photo embedded similar to many newer ATM cards. 3) Any item that is not on an approved list will fail a bar code scan. Cheerios and milk will scan, beer and cigarettes will not. Bar code restrictions are easy to program. 4) No ATM capability. No cash rendering availability.

Okay, that took two minutes of thinking. Perhaps it needs some tweaking, but it is a start. Of course violations would incur penalties, such as reduced amounts, disqualification, or a return to a manual system with stamps.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 11:16 PM

Jim in Western NC said:

And yes, another angle would be to make ALL charity local, at the county or city level. Drop the entire federal involvement with charity. It separates the givers from the receivers and impersonalizes charity. This takes away both responsibility and personal satisfaction.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 11:20 PM

Dardinia in Jacksonville replied:

Exactly! The way this country was founded.

Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 1:36 AM