I-Team questions welfare report sent to lawmakers

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - The 22News I-Team continues our investigation into the state’s welfare system.

On Thursday, the I-Team exposed millions of our tax dollars being used by Massachusetts welfare recipients, outside of Massachusetts.

After going through hundreds of thousands of EBT ATM withdrawals, the I-Team is challenging a legislative report from the department that oversees the state’s welfare system.

Liquor stores, bars, nail or hair salons and a police station.  The I-Team discovered that EBT dollars were withdrawn at ATM’s inside all of those “prohibited” locations in June 2016.  .

The Department of Transitional Assistance, oversees the Massachusetts welfare system.  They released this report to lawmakers in January.

In it, it boasts that just $16,136 EBT dollars were taken out at “prohibited locations” like liquor stores, in June 2016.

The 22News I-Team analyzed more than $15 Million worth of EBT ATM Transactions from that month.

We found $125,600 worth of EBT withdrawals at what we believe should be classified as a prohibited location.  678% higher than what the state reported.

(Are they misleading lawmakers by the numbers they're showing you?)

“I wouldn't say they are misleading lawmakers,” said State Senator Don Humason.

Don Humason is a state senator.

“We certainly have a long way to go but the problem has been a long time coming and a long time in the making and to unravel it is going to take years,” said Senator Humason.

If that number still sounds low, it’s because places like Pawn Shops are not on the state’s prohibited list.  Neither are convenience stores, who thrive on lottery and alcohol sales, which are on the can not buy list.  When we analyzed June 2016, $2.1 Million or 14% of the monthly EBT ATM transactions were made at convenience stores.  The state says that’s okay, it may be the closest place someone could buy milk or groceries.

Regardless of where the money is taken out, we don’t know how that money was spent, but neither does the state. No one keeps track.  Senator Humason told the I-Team, a complete overhaul of the welfare system is unlikely.

“They are fighting an element in the legislature that still believes that recipients of welfare should be able take cash benefits and go anywhere they want and do almost anything that they want”, said Humason.

We also did a soft scrub on a year's worth of data.  We used keywords like liquor, tavern, package and variations of them.  We found just $151,890 taken out at ATM in those locations.  That is a significant decrease from the $852,750 taken out a year before.    The Department of Transitional Assistance is blocking more ATM’s at prohibited locations.  But when we dug deeper, searching by addresses, we saw ATM’s that weren’t necessarily coded on the data we reviewed like a liquor store were actually liquor stores.  For example, more than $15,000 was taken out inside a Springfield liquor store, that did not have a named ATM.

We contacted the Department of Transitional Assistance and shared all of our data with them.  We have an interview scheduled with the Commissioner on Thursday to answer our questions.

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