Most Vermonters have no problem with those in need receiving assistance, especially during winter. But abuses of the “system” for public assistance should be policed and curtailed: currently they are not, and this is a significant problem. Many recipients of public subsidies use the money to purchase lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco products.
This is not legal — official sites for Vermont Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards caution that they are for use to buy groceries only. The Vermont Department of Children and Families (DCF) states on its website:
You cannot use an ATM or make purchases using your cash benefits at a casino, gaming establishment, liquor store, or strip club. Any benefits used at restricted locations will have to be repaid.
An instructive site similarly states:
Here’s what you can’t buy with EBT:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco products
- Lottery tickets/gambling
But buy them they do. While the pretense of prohibition is presented by the government, the Catch-22 is that recipients can and do buy these verboten products using cash advances. DCF offers assistance for “personal needs and incidentals”: “Benefits are paid directly to vendors — except for personal need items, which are paid on EBT cards.”
The State’s link directs users to this explanation:
How It Works
- We send you an EBT card.
- You select a 4-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN).
- Your benefits are added to your card on the same date each month depending on the program — even on weekends and holidays.
- You use your card to buy goods or get cash, and your account balance decreases accordingly.
“How it works” is classic incompetent bureaucracy: recipients freely extract cash advances and then make their next purchase — of beer, cigarettes or alcohol — from the cashier who handed them back the cash. It’s easy:
After making a purchase, you may receive cashback above the cost of your purchase. More importantly, you may withdraw cash from your account in the stores even if you do not make any purchases. … It is important to note that an EBT card can be accessed for cash and benefits. It is possible to go with Authorized ATM and retail stores for cash benefits. When you are going to make any purchase, you can get cashback after using your EBT card.
In states where cannabis has been legalized for commercial sale, it is alleged EBT cards can be used to buy pot directly. Regardless, cash withdrawals permit those receiving assistance to buy pot on the black market as easily. Cash is also ready currency for prostitution (legalized or not), fentanyl, cocaine or heroine.
Ironically, welfare recipients often have children who are exposed to risk when their parents use alcohol or other drugs, or smoke cigarettes that expose children to second-hand smoke. More, gambling is a serious addiction; lottery tickets in particular are regressive, and disproportionately impact low-income people who often buy them in desperate hopes of crawling out of poverty.
People who work long hours and pay taxes to eke out a living in wintery Vermont must pay for their own alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes and illicit drugs (and, when legalized in Vermont, prostitutes). The cash register workers who dispense cash to EBT card holders are among those workers, and rightly express resentment. Meanwhile, Vermont provides free fentanyl test strips but not free insulin test strips, free Suboxone, and free transgender hormones and surgeries, but not free root canals or other provision for life-threatening dental issues.
As Thomas Sowell explains, government interventions to “create equity” always create new inequities. The bureaucratic corruption of the EBT card system is evident, but evidently will not be fixed: there is no incentive for the government to steward other people’s money. State workers at DCF get paid to process funds, not process them with integrity; progressive legislators push ever more programs to “help the poor,” not help those who work for a living and are made poor by ever higher taxes to fund inefficient, patently unfair programs.
Like the emperor with no clothes, the Vermont bureaucracy enables this open fraud while taxpayers watch in contempt, and the poor suffer most of all. Those who do not abuse the system are discredited by those who do; those who do abuse the system use alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets to their own disadvantage, and that of their children; those who work for a living are made poorer by an unaccountable tax-and-spend bureaucracy that siphons off their hard-earned wealth to fund an immoral and corrupt set-up that looks like something from Uzbekistan or Rwanda.
Though, it is admittedly unfair to disparage Uzbekistan or Rwanda by comparing them to Vermont. Surely those nations wouldn’t enable a scheme this easily manipulated.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.