LePage’s Views on Out-of-State EBT Usage
This past week, Governor Paul LePage has announced more plans for welfare reform. This time, he wants to focus on restricting the use of EBT (electronic benefit transfer system) cards outside of the state of Maine. While he has not necessarily proposed a specific way to do so just yet, the LePage Administration has suggested the idea that Maine should simply ban the use of Maine EBT cards in other states. LePage is basing his concerns off the fact that there were 365,000 EBT transactions out of state last year, totaling $13.9 million dollars.
At a glimpse, these numbers do seem quite concerning, but upon further analysis the spending is not a significant issue at all. DHHS did not provide how many of these transactions were cash withdrawals, but the Portland Press Herald determined that it was less than 2%. Cash withdrawals already make up a very small portion of EBT card usage inside the state, so the fact that such a small amount is occurring outside of Maine is not that shocking and should not come as a surprise. The LePage administration declined to comment on whether any out-of-state EBT usage was, in fact, illegal.
Furthermore, LePage seems to be ignoring the fact that poor people do sometimes need to travel. Just because somebody requires financial assistance does not mean that they don’t have life circumstances that cause them to go out of state. Weddings, funerals, and other important occasions often call for out-of-state travel and that does not exclude the poor from such events. If someone needs monetary aid to help them buy food here, he or she will need help buying food elsewhere, too, and we cannot just take that aid away from them. The Portland Press Herald also determined that the majority of these transactions occurred in New England states, with New Hampshire making up 50% and Massachusetts at 13%. This data shows that Mainers who use their EBT cards out-of-state are not going very far.
With that being said, some sort of restriction might prove to be beneficial when it comes to out of state EBT card use. The only true concern with this issue is that the money that has been spent out of state is now circulating outside of Maine, and therefore Maine’s economy and government will see no benefit. Instead of banning all usage, perhaps there could be a set monetary limit when it comes to cash withdrawals or just spending in general. There could be a potential ban on EBT cards for Mainers who need to remain out of state for extended periods of time. It’s not fair to deny recipients their aid, but in order for the government to keep providing such aid, the money needs to stay here in Maine. Therefore, while Maine should not ban all out-of-state EBT spending, it might be a good idea to limit it somehow. Regardless, it is such a small concern that LePage should focus on other, more important ways to reform Maine’s welfare system – at least for now.