EBT abuse is no joke
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, April 20, 2012

For those of you who have never traveled to the West: Cattle guards are horizontal steel rails placed in ditches across the roads at fence openings to prevent cattle from crossing over that area. For some reason, the cattle will not step on the "guards," probably because they fear getting their feet caught between the rails.

A few months ago, President Obama received and was reading a report that there were more than 100,000 cattle guards in Colorado, where ranchers had protested his proposed changes in grazing policies; so he ordered the Secretary of the Interior to fire half of the "cattle" guards immediately! Vice President Joe Biden intervened with a request that before any "cattle" guards were fired, they be given six months of retraining.

The above is a joke. Do not pass it on to everyone on your email list.

I get this kind of stuff all the time. For some reason, this one, sent to me by a good friend, made me laugh, probably because I recall being puzzled by the cattle guards I saw in Ireland. He prefaced it with a warning that it might not be true. I was pretty positive it wasn't, but checked with snopes.com anyhow, learned that this particular joke was first told about a president in the 1950s (Eisenhower? Really!?).

I also just got this on the Internet.

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is an electronic system in the United States that allows state governments to provide taxpayer-funded welfare benefits by issuing a plastic debit card to use for food, certain services or cash. In Massachusetts, EBT cards are used to gamble, join health clubs, travel out of state, and get tattoos; to buy jewelry, guns, pornography, makeup, and tickets to movies and sporting events.

Whoa, now that is REALLY funny! Wait. It's about Massachusetts. Could it possibly be true? Checking again with snopes.com, found that no urban legends about EBT cards had been investigated and found inaccurate.

Before I laugh, I need more information ...

Here it is, a front-page splash in the Boston Herald about a Boston heroin dealer who after his latest arrest used his one phone call to ask an associate to "get my EBT card and go to the ATM and get the money to bail me out ... tonight."


Upon further investigation, it was learned that EBT "poor people" can use the card as a taxpayer-funded ATM to get cash for anything.

Angered by the story, House Speaker Bob DeLeo began to support some of the reforms that had been advocated by state Rep. Shaunna O'Connell (R-Taunton), Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston) and others.

According to the State House News Service, "the proposed House budget, released last week for debate next week, contains several new restrictions on what welfare recipients can purchase using state-issued electronic benefit cards, including firearms, cosmetics, jewelry, travel services, health clubs, tattoo parlors and gambling. The restrictions are similar to those recommended last month by a special commission on EBT cards, and would add to the current ban on purchases of alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.

"The House budget would also prohibit liquor stores, casinos, strip clubs, smoke shops, gun dealers, tattoo parlors, nail salons, health spas, rent-a-centers, electronics and appliance stores, jewelry shops, gyms, movie theaters, bail bonds, and bars from accepting EBT cards."

However, Rep. O'Connell said any reform is meaningless if it allows payouts from the ATM to be used for any of the prohibited items. She argues that since the cards are meant for necessary supplemental benefits, they should not provide cash where there is no way to track the spending, which can include alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets. She and legislative allies are expected to offer a bi-partisan "no cash" amendment during the budget debate.

The budget document also would ban using the cards out of state except for the five Massachusetts border states; apparently they've been found in Florida during the winter. And, if you're not laughing yet, get this: State figures show that roughly 20,000 cards are replaced each month.

Has your sense of humor absorbed the obvious selling of the cards to those who are not eligible for welfare, then presently replaced free?

Well, if you're not laughing, you must be one of those humorless fiscal conservatives. If you're angry, perhaps you're one of those mean-spirited taxpayers with no compassion for the poor who need their tattoos.

Need more funnies? Heard the one from The Hill about the federal General Services Administration official at the center of a scandal over lavish government spending, who invoked the Fifth Amendment numerous times at a congressional hearing on Monday? Jeff Neely had been subpoenaed for his role in organizing a 2010 Las Vegas conference of the GSA's Public Buildings Service, for which the $823,000 taxpayer-funded tab included $146,527 for catered food, $6,325 for commemorative coins and $75,000 for a cooperation-building exercise to construct bicycles.

There will be more hearings, more scandals. But never mind. April 22 is Massachusetts Tax Freedom Day, the day we taxpayers stop funding government hilarity and can finally start working for ourselves and our families.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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