HARRISBURG – Continuing his commitment to fighting welfare fraud and abuse, Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) proposed two amendments in the House Tuesday to improve oversight of the use of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.
Both efforts were defeated on a party-line vote with all Democrats voting against the amendments.
“Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve absolute certainty that their tax dollars are being used wisely by state agencies and the Commonwealth is being a watchdog over those dollars,” Warner said. “That is not the case right now with EBT cards, and that is unacceptable.
Warner pointed to two reports by two different auditor generals that raised concerns about usage of Pennsylvania EBT cards in other states; however, despite these concerns, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has not updated its processes since 2012.
“Without updating the system, the department could be potentially missing the opportunity to detect fraudulent use costing millions of taxpayer dollars,” the lawmaker said.
An analysis of out-of-state EBT card use in 2013, 2014 and 2015 found activity each year exceeded $70 million, which is about 2% of the approximately $3.4 billion distributed through the cards each year. Over the three-year period, Pennsylvania EBT cards were used in all 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. While three-quarters of the out-of-state activity was in the six adjacent states to the Commonwealth, more than $14 million was spent in Florida, $6 million in North Carolina, nearly $100,000 in Hawaii and more than $45,000 in Alaska.
One amendment would have required the Department of Human Services to create an Electronic Benefits Transfer Cards Management Program to develop electronic controls, oversight mechanisms and follow-up procedures to detect and track fraudulent uses of EBT cards.
Another concern with the use of EBT cards involves “authorized representatives,” Warner said. In 2016, a DHS audit discovered the state’s inspector general is precluded from investigating and pursuing criminal charges against authorized representatives because DHS does not require them to review and sign the same information as cardholders.
A person eligible for and receiving benefits can designate an authorized representative to use their EBT card, a common occurrence when the eligible individual is a child or a person who is unable to leave his or her home. Although the individual receiving benefits must sign the rights and responsibilities agreement, the authorized user does not, meaning the authorized user is not held to the same standards as the recipient.
The second amendment would have closed this loophole by requiring authorized users for EBT cards to sign the same rights and responsibilities agreements as those who are eligible for benefits, holding all recipients and authorized users to the same standards of use.
“It’s disappointing to see these good-government measures voted down,” Warner said. “Ensuring our tax dollars go to those truly in need of assistance should not be a partisan issue.”
Representative Ryan Warner
52nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives