(WWLP) - One in eight families in Massachusetts is given your taxpayer money for basic needs. The 22News I-Team discovers how some people are using it.
The answer is we don't know. $25 Million is taken out in cash each month and a 22News I-Team investigation reveals some potential loopholes in the system.
Amusement Parks, Strip Clubs and Liquor Stores.
The 22News I-Team went through more than 180,000 EBT ATM withdrawals in Massachusetts from July. We discovered those kind of establishments are where tens of thousands of dollars are being taken out each month.
"I think its appalling", says State Representative Shaunna O'Connell from Taunton.
Representative O'Connell has served on two commission examining welfare abuse in the state.
"DTA (Division of Transitional Assistance) is not doing their job. They are not performing the core responsibilities of oversight verification and fraud prevention and investigation. They just have no interest whatsoever in protecting the tax payer dollars and overseeing this program like they're supposed to", says O'Connell.
More than $2000 in EBT cash was taken out at an ATM inside a liquor store on State Street in Springfield in July. While there is no way to tell if that money was actually spent inside, just 200 feet away; a bank ATM where money could have been withdrawn.
The 22News I-Team found more than $38,000 taken out at liquor and package stores in Western Massachusetts in one month. In the state it's much more. On average, more than one million dollars a year in EBT money is taken out at liquor or package stores. The state gives out around $30 Million a month in this program, $25 Million is taken out in cash.
"We have got to get a hold on where this cash is going", says Representative O'Connell.
Division of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Daniel Curley resigned from his post on February 1st. An internal report found that 47,000 families receiving taxpayer-funded benefits are unaccounted for and nearly $30 million in food stamp money went to recipients who weren't eligible.
Interim Commissioner Stacey Monahan gave her first interview to the 22News I-Team.
"The public trust has been damaged by some of the things that have happened", says Monahan.
Many of us don't need cash anymore. Debit or EBT is accepted almost everywhere. Monahan disagrees saying that cash is necessary because needy families use it for public transportation or making rent payments. Yet, cash is allowed to be taken out across the country.
"Over 90% of out of state purchases happen at our border states so for families that live on the border of the state sometimes the closest place to go to purchase goods is actually out-of-state", says Monahan.
Also on summer vacations. Our investigation uncovered people taking out EBT money at an IMAX movie theater in California, a pawn shop in Rhode Island, a strip club in Connecticut, sex novelty shops in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Universal Studios Florida and Mount Rushmore, just to name a few.
"You're right, those are things that we need to investigate and that's why I asked for a bi-weekly report from our vendor to see exactly the prevalence of that, where it is, if there's a pattern and to be able to address those things", says Monahan.
Governor Patrick has said in the past that he won't enforce EBT reform regulation, now Mohahan says that will be different.
"I have a mandate from the Governor to enforce those laws", says Monahan.
Representative O'Connell told the 22News I-Team she'll believe it when it happens.
"You hear people say even in the Department of Transitional Assistance; well we hope that they spent it the right way. We can't go on hope when we're talking about hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars", says O'Connell.
Monahan told the 22News I-Team they are working on blocking ATM withdrawals at stores that cannot accept EBT money at their registers.