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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Maine Governor LePage - Intimidation of Those with EBT Cards

Another acronym to understand:  EBT - Electronic Benefits Card
This particular acronym also happens to be a euphemism for "welfare".

In real speak, EBT means people who receive food assistance, like Food Stamps. This could mean an elderly person, a child, a working class seasonal worker (like a fisherman), a legal immigrant or somebody who's disabled on Medicaid.

Regardless of who receives an EBT card, Maine Governor LePage has now succeeded in intimidating their vulnerable economic situation. LePage staged a political Maine Capitol info session whereby he claimed proof of people using Maine EBT cards to make purchases at New Hampshire liqueur stores. How can anybody rebut such outlandish claims? (What's evident is that New Hampshire liquer stores often have rows of cars with Maine license plates in the parking lots - and they aren't people with EBT cards). 

People with EBT cards would have to come forth and show themselves as the disabled, the poor, children or immigrants. Vulnerable people are already intimidated by their situation.
They can't expose themselves.

Now, Maine's governor, rather than protecting the dignity of these people, has created a sterotype about their needy utilization of the cards used for their particular needs. 

Following the Governor's grandstanding about what he claimed to be misuse of the EBT cards, the New Hampshire liquer stores rebutted the claims. EBT cards are not used at New Hampshire liquer stores. A report in the Maine Sunday Telegram rises questions about the Governor's fraud claims.

Instead of offering clear-cut examples of welfare abuse, however, the LePage administration’s list arguably illustrates why the national campaign to crack down on questionable purchases with welfare funds is so difficult – and why politicians’ black-and-white portrayal of alleged welfare abuses often differs from the fuzzy reality.

A case in point is that “one liquor store in New Hampshire,” in reality a convenience store never named by LePage but identifiable in state reports.

Located in Somersworth, N.H., just across the bridge from Berwick, Borderline Beverage is popular with Mainers who stop by for sodas, chips, groceries and, of course, a six-pack of beer or a pack of smokes.

Data from the LePage administration show that Maine welfare recipients swiped their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards – the EBT debit cards used to access cash through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – at least 1,070 times at Borderline Beverage’s check-out counter or ATM between January 2011 and November 2013.

Because of a fatal flaw in the EBT reporting system, Maine and New Hampshire have no idea what those shoppers purchased. And even if it was beer or cigarettes, neither state prohibits residents from making such purchases with EBT cards at the vast majority of stores, although lawmakers in both states are likey to debate such changes this year.

Both states (Maine and NH) prohibit EBT usage at stores where 50 percent of visible inventory is composed of alcohol (New Hampshire) or alcohol sales make up 50 percent of all revenue (Maine). Officials in neither state could say Friday whether the convenience store met those legal thresholds, however.

When asked about the transactions, an employee, Sam Patel, said the store sells “only food, groceries and soda” to EBT card users, not alcohol or cigarettes.

Indeed, rather than root out fraudulent use of EBT cards, the Maine governor has intimidated everyone who is vulnerable and needs to use one to assist their economic distress.  

Sadly, those who use EBT cards are unable to defend themselves.

It's supposed to be part of the Governor's job to protect those who need public assistance, rather than contribute to making their sad lives even more miserable.

Fortunately, advocacy groups and Democrats are pushing back on widespread EBT fraud claims. Nevertheless, their noble efforts are often after the damage has already been done by Governor LePage's overt front page news claims. 

It makes me sad to see Maine's governor become obsessed with stigmatizing Maine's most vulnerable people. This is especially unsettling when the proof of EBT fraud is ambiguous. 

What happened to our justice, whereby people are innocent until proven otherwise?

Shame on Governor LePage. He should be focused on helping poor people, rather obsessed with intimidating them.

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