On Tuesday, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) released data on purchases made with state welfare benefits that he claimed exposed abuse, but they only add up to less than a percent of all benefit transactions.
The data show that there were more than 3,000 transactions at bars, sports bars, and strip clubs made with EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards loaded with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or welfare) and food stamp benefits between January 1, 2011 and November 15, 2013. The state doesn’t track what was actually purchased, and some transactions can be withdrawals from ATMs at those locations. Given that there are about 50,000 of these transactions every month, or nearly 1.8 million in that time frame, as the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spokesman told the Bangor Daily News, they only make up “about two-tenths of 1 percent of total purchases and ATM withdrawals,” the paper calculates.
LePage still expressed outrage at this tiny fraction of purchases. “This information is eye-opening and indicates a larger problem than initially thought,” he wrote when the data was released. “These benefits are supposed to help families, children and our most vulnerable Mainers. Instead, we have discovered welfare benefits are paying for alcohol, cigarettes and other things that hardworking taxpayers should not be footing the bill for.” When the Bangor Daily News asked his spokeswoman about the small number of transactions, she responded, “Any amount of abuse in the system that takes away from the truly needy needs to be dealt with,” adding, “We’re not uncovering anything new. There are always going to be bad actors out there. We’re simply saying, ‘We’ve got an eye on you.’”