Tom Humprey links to this article by former Libertarian think-tank operators about Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) card abuse.
They rightfully "expose" EBT card abuse at liquor stores and strip clubs. Some of their other examples, though, are misleading at best. For example, they for some reason feel that purchases at West Town Mall or at Dillards are abuse. They also cite purchases at pizza restaurants, auto parts stores, and a hair care products store.
These other alleged abuses are legitimate uses of EBT cards. Poor people need clothing, personal grooming products and cars that run. They might even like to have a pizza from time to time like "normal" people.
The article also contains inaccuracies, such as the claim that the United States Postal Service does not accept EBT cards. In fact, the USPS accepts cash-benefit EBT cards for all USPS products and services. For example, an unbanked person could go to a post office and use their EBT card to purchase a money order to pay their utility bill.
This "controversy" is a right-wing talking point being ginned up by conservatives and tea partiers with their hair on fire about fraud and abuse in government programs. (See: Greg Johnson, and this recent letter to the editor.)
They are using misdirection and disinformation to promote their war on "fraud and abuse" by intentionally confusing different kinds of benefits (as they even note in their article) with how the benefits are delivered using EBT cards.
EBT cards were originally designed to distribute food stamp benefits (now SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). More recently, they are used by states to distribute welfare benefits (now TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). EBT cards have also been used in some states for unemployment benefits and disaster relief funds.
SNAP benefits are to be used for food, and there are restrictions regarding the types of foods that can be purchased (i.e. no alcohol or hot foods or food items consumed in the store). TANF benefits are cash benefits that could previously be used for just about anything (including EBT ATM withdrawals), but recent changes to federal law require states to prohibit the use of TANF EBT cards at liquor stores, casinos, adult entertainment and the like. States are supposed to have policies in place by Feb. 22, 2014.
There are two problems with this. First, the federal government leaves it up to the states to administer SNAP and TANF benefit programs and EBT systems. Second, it appears that individual EBT benefit accounts comingle SNAP and TANF benefits, and there does not appear to be any way to differentiate the type of benefit at the point of sale.
According to operating rules of Quest, the major EBT electronic clearing network, the type of benefit allowed is determined by the type of merchant authorization, either SNAP only, cash-benefit (i.e. TANF) only, or both. It is up to the merchant, then, to enforce the rules. Also, SNAP EBT merchant enrollment is handled by the federal government (USDA), while state TANF cash-benefit merchant enrollment is handled by each state. This is further complicated by third-party point-of-sale terminal and exchange providers, who are supposed to qualify merchants and the types of EBT transactions they can accept.
According to this recent GAO report, it's a complicated mess and technology has not kept up, and neither have state policies. Here's another report on state attempts to regulate EBT TANF transactions.
But obviously it's that socialist Obama's fault for redistributing wealth to all those freeloaders on welfare and food stamps.
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