Credit cards make buying easier for everybody, including people receiving government assistance who use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to buy things like booze, tickets to tour Elvis Presley's Graceland Mansion in Memphis and Dillard's, an upscale department store.
Those are just some of the questionable transactions unearthed by Tennessee Watchdog's Christopher Butler who examined more than 140,000 EBT transactions made in the Memphis area last year between October and December. Most of the transactions were for legitimate food purchases, but more than a few were anything but, including:
|‘The use of EBTs is been encouraged by federal officials since 2004 and is now available in some form in all 50 states.’|
* Graceland's ticket office -- $80 (two transactions)
* Wolfchase Mall -- Almost $500 (four transactions)
* Airport Inn Hotel -- $100
* United States Postal Service (USPS): $360 (two transactions)
* Senses Nightclub -- $60
* Waffle House -- $120
* AutoZone -- $600 (five transactions)
* Southland Mall -- $200
* Orpheum Theater -- $120
* Best Buy -- $60
* Dillards -- $100
* United Parcel Service (UPS) -- $80
* Sears -- $87
Tennessee officials spend $127 million a year on welfare assistance through the state's health and human services department, with 84 percent of the funding coming from the federal government. The EBT cards are supposed to be used for approved family assistance needs, particularly food.
But Butler found repeated instances of EBT cards being used at stores not known for selling pork chops, green beans or Cheerios.
"Recipients also made purchases as high as $500 at gas station convenience stores. In one instance, Tennessee Watchdog found a $300 purchase at a Memphis Citgo convenience store that does not specialize primarily in groceries. An employee at that store said it does not offer cash back benefits but accepts an EBT card for food products only. Employees of a Memphis Exxon gas station and convenience store, where someone made a $400 EBT transaction, reported that it too does not give cash back benefits," Butler said.
The use of EBTs is been encouraged by federal officials since 2004 and is now available in some form in all 50 states.
Tennessee Watchdog is part of the Watchdog.org investigative reporting unit affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Go here for more on the Memphis-area EBT abuses.