A bit of background: the "Electronic Benefits Transfer Program" (or EBT) is a credit-card issued by the federal government to reduce "the stigma sometimes associated with public assistance" (click here for an entertaining -- and necessarily profane -- music video explaining EBTs).
As you probably know, food stamps and other wealth redistribution schemes have exploded to historic highs under the direction of the Obama administration.
What you may not know is that even the USDA has no clue what kinds of foods are "legitimately" purchased with EBTs: for example, junk food, candy, and other foodstuffs that increase obesity and diabetes. Why should we care? Because not only are taxpayers funding unhealthy eating -- they are then footing the bill for any resulting medical bills under programs like Medicaid and SCHIP.
People who qualify for food stamps - known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - have a growing variety of places where they can use their electronic benefit (EBT) cards, including supermarkets, gas stations, Papa Murphy pizza shops and even dollar-discount stores - essentially, any business that can install coolers to stock specific kinds of food and meet minimum federal requirements...
...Nationally, about 210,000 food stamp vendors split the $64.7 billion that SNAP participants spent last year... While the cost of SNAP and the number of people it serves aren't in doubt, other information about the government program is more difficult to get...
...the [USDA] does not track what types of foods participants buy with food stamps. Almost all foods, including pop and energy drinks, can be bought with food stamps...
...The high number of convenience stores in SNAP alarms public health advocates... In an era of rising obesity rates, some argue that restrictions should be placed on what people can buy with their EBT cards. Without restrictions, participants often eat foods that lead to health problems, which then lead to higher costs in government-run health care plans... "It doesn't seem to me that government should buy things that make people sick and then clean up the mess later," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity...
...One thing is certain: Not even the USDA knows what people are buying with food stamps. Earlier this year, the department sent a request to companies seeking help in compiling hard data...
Doesn't that just warm the cockles of your heart? On average, each taxpaying household in America sends about $1,000 a year to the USDA to provide food stamps to the "needy". And the USDA has no idea what kinds of foods are actually being purchased with your money.
Isn't a vast, unelected, unaccountable federal bureaucracy grand?
And then there's the criminal activity associated with EBTs. As you might have predicted with billions in "free", taxpayer money at stake, fraud is rampant with EBTs. Recent investigations in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois*, Indiana*, Kansas*, Massachusetts, Michigan*, Minnesota*, New York, Ohio*, Oklahoma*, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming* point to systematic exploitation of food stamps for criminal and terrorist activities.
Additionally, multi-state investigations for "water dumping" and other large-scale scams are also on the rise.
A brief investigation by a Seattle television station discovered that EBTs are routinely used as barter for illegal goods and services:
Last month, KING 5 recorded illegal transactions outside a Seattle supermarket. People were handing cards over to one of several people working outside the store. They are part of a ring that pays 50 cents on the dollar for food stamps, which are distributed monthly on debit cards.
KING 5 recorded the video with help from a man we'll call Peter. He’s a food stamp recipient who says addicts especially are eager to trade food-only benefits for half their value in cash.
“(They are) buying crack, booze, prostitutes,” says Peter... We wanted to ask the USDA how it can manage a bigger program with fewer investigations, but the department refused multiple requests for an on-camera interview during our visit to Washington D.C. last month... The USDA division that administers food stamps, the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), was particularly tight-lipped. FNS spokesman Jack Currie refused to return phone calls from the KING 5 Investigators.
In the last five years, federal food stamp spending has soared from $28.5 billion to more than $64 billion a year. In 2012, the program may cost taxpayers $80 billion.
The federal government is completely out-of-control. It can't manage a food stamp program, yet it wants to control every aspect of our lives from our health care to our light bulbs.
And please note that sometimes social stigma is a good thing. Encouraging those capable of doing so to get off the public dole is a good thing.
That's how America was built: individual initiative. Not by building a permanent underclass addicted to government largesse, living in a permanent state of poverty, helplessness, and misery.
That may be what Democrats want. But that's not what real Americans want. Remember in 2012.
* See "Muslim Convenience Store Food Stamp Fraud in U.S. Funds Terror Worldwide"