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Maine blocks benefit cards at questionable places

May 12, 2014 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine has begun blocking welfare benefit cards from being used in automated teller machines at certain locations, including liquor stores, pubs and strip clubs, Gov. Paul LePage said Monday.

The Department of Health and Human Services prevented the use of the cards at 44 ATMs and anticipates that more than 200 locations will be blocked by the summer. Some of the locations already blocked include PT’s Showclub in Portland, Diamond’s Gentlemen’s Club in Bangor and Joka’s Discount Beverage in Waterville.

All of the businesses provide products or services that cannot be legally bought using state welfare funds.

“These tax dollars are designated for daily necessities like diapers and healthy meals that vulnerable families and children need to survive. To think these dollars may have been spent on liquor and adult entertainment is incomprehensible, and this administration will not tolerate it,” LePage said in a statement.

The LePage administration has been pressing to reduce welfare fraud.

Late last month in Bangor, the Department of Health and Human Services began issuing welfare benefit cards with photos on them to crack down on fraud and abuse, despite urging from the federal government to wait. Eventually, welfare recipients across Maine will be required to have photos on their cards.

As for restricted ATMs, the state modeled its effort on actions in California and Massachusetts, both of which also have blocked the use of benefit cards at certain locations.

Maine law bans benefits cards from busing used at ATM machines in retail locations where more than half of revenue comes from the sale of liquor, in strip clubs and in most areas in gambling facilities. But until now, there was nothing in place to prevent people from using their cards at ATMs in those locations, the administration said.

Democrats said the LePage administration could have acted sooner.

“The governor says this was a priority, yet he has waited two years to begin implementing the law — right in time for the election,” said Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves.

Maine, which has a contract with Xerox, pays a one-time fee of about $92 for each machine location that is blocked. This is similar to the work done by California and Massachusetts with the same vendor.