Local News

Welfare Fraud Still Possible With New EBT Card

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FAYETTEVILLE — Taxpayers lose millions of dollars every year when people use food stamps illegally. The new electronic benefit transfer card is designed to stop fraud.

Cumberland County began using EBT debit cards four months ago to curb food stamp fraud. Department of Social Services leaders estimate a 90 percent reduction in welfare fraud, but even the EBT card cannot eliminate fraud all together.

One woman, who asked not to be identified, says she was outraged when a welfare recipient, trying to abuse the system, approached her inside a local grocery store.

"She told me if I would let her buy my groceries with her food stamp card, that I could get twice as much because if I spent $80 I would only have to give her $40 cash."

She refused to assist the woman, but another shopper did.

Cumberland County's Social Services Director says what happened to the woman has been the only official case of fraud reported to his office. He says the change from food stamps to the EBT Debit Card has eliminated most welfare fraud cases.

"It's trackable, where food stamps were not, they were like currency," Department of Social Services Director Chip Modlin said.

Modlin says because the debit cards are trackable, many people who might have abused the old food stamps system did not even bother going through mandatory training required to get the new EBT card.

There has been one other fraud case involving a family member who used the card illegally. The only other problem reported is that some elderly people have forgotten their PIN or password numbers.

It has been no problem for business owners. They are thrilled with the new cards.

"It's a lot easier, a lot faster, and less hassle than dealing with singles," store owner Ali Rammouni said.

The pilot program will extend into Western North Carolina this fall. The cards will be used statewide beginning in June 1999.

Officials in all three test counties will share their experiences with other counties to help them avoid problems.