I-Team: EBT money taken out at strip clubs, $850K at liquor stores


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – In November, the 22News I-Team uncovered thousands of EBT dollars being taken out at ATMs in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and money being taken out in every single state. Now, the I-Team digs deeper into where welfare recipients are taking out EBT, or food stamp money at ATMs in Massachusetts.

It’s our tax dollars at work: helping lower income families survive and get back on their feet. Massachusetts welfare recipients took out more than $236-million in cash in one year. It’s supposed to be for basic needs. Most people use that money the right way, but a 22News I-Team investigation reveals there are still plenty of loopholes.

The I-Team went through more than one million EBT ATM transactions in Massachusetts in one year from September 2014 to August 2015.

We found money being taken out at Hy-Line Cruises in Hyannis, $3,000 at Logan International Airport, the Framingham Police Department, a gun club in Hudson, and during a Chris Brown and separate Incubus concerts at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield. EBT money was also taken out at three strip clubs in the state, including the Magic Lantern in Palmer.

We don’t know how that money was spent, but neither does the state. No one keeps track.

Welfare recipients can’t buy beer with their EBT card, but we found $852,750 of EBT money taken out at ATM’s inside places we identified as package or liquor stores. $66,270 at the Summit Package Store in Springfield. Another $66,420 at bars across the state.

The Department of Transitional Assistance, or DTA, which oversees the state’s welfare system, told the I-Team as of today, DTA has blocked 541 “bars, pubs, taverns” and 660 “liquor stores.”

More than $20,000 EBT dollars were taken out at one convenience store in Springfield where they sell beer and wine.  Every transaction, the welfare recipient was hit with a service fee.  Now just a few feet away, if a welfare recipient used this bank ATM, they wouldn’t be hit with any transaction fees.

$1,960 was taken out at an iPhone Solutions store. $5,140 was taken out Six Flags. $12,620 at Best Buy across the state and $20,140 at Pawn Shops.

Pawn shops are not prohibited locations under the law, therefore DTA does not have the authority to block ATMs at those locations.

You can’t pay directly for a tattoo with your EBT card either, but we found $240 taken out at an ATM inside a Springfield tattoo shop.

In a statement sent to the I-Team, the DTA says they are vigilant in its efforts to identify the improper use of benefits by constantly reviewing transactions and proactively blocking ATM/electronic payment systems at establishments prohibited by law. As a result DTA has seen a 90% decrease in the amount of money spent at identified prohibited locations in the last two years.

The DTA has to submit a report to state lawmakers by 2019 regarding moving to a cashless system.

In February, the state auditor’s office identified $5.7 million in fraud related to the department of transitional assistance for the 2015 fiscal year.

***Correction:  The story originally reported that $580 was taken out at an ATM inside a head shop in Springfield.  While the $580 was taken out at an ATM at that same address, it was under a previous owner and at the time was MK Smoke and Convenience Store.

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