SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - It's our money, but is the state keeping good enough tabs on how it's spent? The 22News I-Team uncovered how there's no accounting for millions of our tax dollars.
We're talking about EBT or welfare dollars. The 22News I-Team pored through one year of EBT ATM transactions and discovered no one really knows how our tax dollars are spent.
Sea World, lavish resorts in California, Mohegan Sun Casino, $4000 taken out during the Big E on the grounds; these are just a few of the places the 22News I-Team found where welfare recipients are taking out our tax dollars at ATM's.
The 22News I-Team requested and analyzed a year's worth of never before compiled data. We found that our tax dollars were taken out at ATM's in every state in the past year.
Even out of the country, $4260 in the U-S Virgin Islands and $88,649 in Puerto Rico.
(One thing that stood out, $88,000 taken out in Puerto Rico, is that acceptable?)
"No those types of things are not acceptable," said State Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, (R) Taunton.
State Representative O'Connell has spent four years working on common sense welfare reform, while she has helped passed some new laws, it is always a struggle.
Massachusetts welfare recipients took out more than $236 Million in cash in the past year and no one keeps track of how that money is spent.
"The most important thing we can do is to make sure people that need the cash are getting the cash, if we see sales at places where they shouldn't be happening, liquor stores, lottery tickets, out of state, that is a red flag. Why is that person spending it on that and why are they on assistance in the first place?," said Rep. O'Connell.
The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) which oversees the state's welfare program, is based out of Boston. Their Commissioner refused our interview request, but they did answer some questions via email and sent us this statement...
Saying "EBT benefits are to be used for the recipients' most immediate and basic needs." But is a hotel in California which describes itself as "Upscale Lodging with Dining and a Spa" - basic needs? We don't know how that money was spent, but we do know that a welfare recipient took out $400 from an ATM there.
You can't use your EBT card to buy booze or lottery tickets at a register, but you can take out hundreds of our taxpayer dollars at an ATM inside a liquor or convenience store. We found one liquor store in Springfield that had $36,000 EBT taken out at its ATM in the past year. 2/10 of a mile down the street, a welfare recipient could take out money and not be charged a transaction fee. At that liquor store, they get charged a fee and that money is taken out of their account. The DTA estimates that banks will collect $1.8 million of our tax dollars this year because welfare recipients didn't use approved ATM'S.
"This is a huge red flag, that money is for people that are spending it on necessities," said Rep. O'Connell.
The DTA has to submit a report to state lawmakers by 2019 regarding moving to a cashless system. Until then, we can likely expect more of the same.
We spent $500 to receive these reports. The state pays the Xerox company $23.6 million to operate the ATM activity for EBT recipients, but aren't given daily or even monthly reports unless they request it or open an investigation.