State lawmakers consider adding photo to welfare assistance cards to curb fraud

welfare cards
(USDA)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Will adding a photo to welfare assistance cards help to curb fraud in the system, or does it create a “card of shame” that’s not worth the added expense?

That’s the question many state lawmakers are considering as more states work to crack down on rampant abuse in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs. Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts and New York have already switched to photo cards, and about a dozen states are contemplating the same, Bloomberg.com reports.

“Anybody who doesn’t think that food stamps are not (rife) with fraud is just closing their eyes and don’t want to see the truth,” said Georgia state Rep. Greg Morris, who sponsored the photo-card bill that became law in his state April 29, according to the news site.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage released data in January on EBT transactions in the Pine Tree State that shows “that since January 1, 2012 more than 3,000 transactions were made at more than 22 ‘smoke shops’ in Maine, which sell primarily cigarettes and other tobacco products. There are several examples of individuals using their EBT cards to spend hundreds of dollars at a time at liquor stores …

“One liquor store in New Hampshire had more than a thousand transactions totally nearly $8,000,” according to LePage’s January press release.

Maine’s federal assistance cards have been used by people in 46 different states who have been out of Maine for more than a year. The cards have been used at places like strip clubs, liquor stores, tobacco shops, bars, and other locations prohibited by state and federal laws, LePage said.

Michigan lawmakers in 2012 made it illegal to withdrawal money with the federal aid cards from casino ATMs after lawmakers learned recipients withdrew more than $87,000 at Detroit casinos between July 2009 and July 2010, Mlive.com reports.

Michigan has also increased penalties for retailers who illegally accept the federal assistance as payment for liquor and lotto tickets.

There’s no doubt people are gaming the system, much like the voting process, but that hasn’t prevented some from fighting against the idea of printing recipients’ photos on their welfare cards.

“As soon as they see I’ve got this photo card, they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a poor woman who’s lazy,” said Diane Sullivan, a part-time policy director at the nonprofit Homes for Families in Boston who relies on the assistance, told Bloomberg.com. “To see it gain steam in other states is extremely concerning to me.”

Sullivan contends that putting the pictures on the cards creates a “card of shame” that will discourage some from taking advantage of the benefits. Massachusetts Law Reform Institute policy analyst Patricia Baker also argues that federal law requires every member of the household to have access to the assistance cards, and retailers can’t legally demand to see the photo on the cards unless they check all credit card users. She also believes the pictures will do little to prevent fraud in cases in which retailers scheme with card holders.

Others in Pennsylvania have questioned whether the substantially more expensive photo benefit cards are worth the added expense – $8 a piece versus 23 cents for the current cards.

The bottom line is that rampant abuse of the federal benefits programs are translating into millions in wasted tax dollars every year, at places like casinos, strip clubs, bars and smoke shops. That’s money that could go toward feeding a hungry child, or others who could truly use the help.

The added cost of the cards, which could be deducted from the recipients’ first assistance payment, would undoubtedly be off-set by the savings from cracking down on fraud.

Many on the left would like the public to believe that holding people accountable for how they spend their public assistance is wrong. But ignoring the very real problems with these programs will only make matters worse, and leave less money for those who rely on the system for legitimate reasons.

Authored by Victor Skinner

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