Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents revealed yesterday that EBT cards (debit cards that are loaded with funds for welfare programs, like SNAP and TANF) are being used as currency to buy drugs. In the past 11 months, MDEA agents have found 40 EBT cards in 25 drug enforcement operations.
From the Bangor Daily News:
Matt Cashman, a 19-year veteran of the Lewiston Police Department and an investigative supervisor for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, told the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in April that in the previous 11 months MDEA agents had seized 40 EBT cards in 25 separate drug enforcement operations.
“From interviews of defendants and others with knowledge of ongoing activity, MDEA has learned that it is common practice for drug dealers to take custody of a drug user’s EBT card either as direct payment or in lieu of immediate payment,” Cashman told the committee. “In those instances where a dealer takes the card in payment, the EBT cardholder will give the dealer their PIN.”
Cashman went on to say that in the instances where a drug dealer takes the card in lieu of payment, once benefits are reloaded to the card they extract their payment and frequently an “interest” fee.
In his testimony, Cashman detailed six specific cases, not including the Robinson case. In most cases, the cards were not issued to the suspects who were holding them, Cashman said.
In one case agents discovered that an incarcerated dealer’s EBT card was being used in Alabama and had been regularly used there by another individual for more than two years.
This is sad for a multitude of reasons. First, drug addiction is a disease and it's upsetting people are resorting to trading EBT cards for drugs. EBT cards carry funds meant to help feed a hungry person, not enable them to acquire drugs. It's also sad that the state's hands are basically tied when it comes to preventing this kind of fraud--attempts to add photos to EBT cards have been met with threats from the federal government, and it's not possible to restrict EBT usage to just the state in which the card was issued. Cards that are "lost" (whether legitimately lost or traded for drugs) have to be replaced--otherwise people may not eat.
Still, the state should have some kind of resources or ability to investigate why some people have had to have their card re-issued dozens of times. One of the cards recovered by MDEA agents in a drug raid had been issued 47 times. Forty-freaking-seven! Let's be real: nobody is that forgetful or robbed that frequently.
Maine has taken positive steps to reduce welfare dependency and fraud in the state. It's unfortunate that they're being prohibited from taking even more.