One of Boston’s daily newspapers has made a lot of noise this year ramping up alleged abuses in Massachusetts’s EBT — “electronic benefits transfer,” i.e. food stamps — program. This at the behest of a Taunton State Representative, Shaunna O’Connell (R), who has made it her cause celebre.

We at Here and Sphere reject the fuss. Here’s the daily paper’s claims vs. the Real Deal:

1. EBT benefits went to dead people — yes. About 0.20 % of the state’s EBT funds went to dead people. Most banks would be overjoyed with a loss rate that low. The loss resulted from, in almost all cases, of people delaying to inform the state of the death of their r5elative. The state Department of Welfare estimates that only a very, very few cases involve knowing fraud. Those will be prosecuted if feasible.

2. EBT benefits should be conditioned on recipients working — most benefits go to elderly, the disabled, or to single parents. Single parents already work. If you think that caring for a house of kids isn’t work, trying to doing it sometime. Not only is it work, but also: having a single parent doing it, and paying her benefit money to keep her doing it, costs a heck of a lot less than day care for kids while the EBT recipient goes out and works at something.else. As for the disabled and the elderly, they either cannot work or shouldn’t be asked to. Retirees who do not work are often too physically down to work at much. They may have a hobby : but to order them to pursue their hobby or lose their EBT seems like “piling on” to us.

3. EBT was being used to buy cigarettes, or liquor, or scratch tickets — this is where the whole “EBT abuse” flap began. We agree that EBT recipients shouldn’t use their benefits to gamble; and cigarettes sure aren’t much good for one’s health. But life, for EBT recipients, isn’t exactly fun. In most cases it’s a cramped-up life without a car, without the ability to go anywhere or do anything or buy anything but survival. Try living an EBT life sometime ! Do we as a society REALLY want to insist that EBT recipients can’t buy a cigarette, or have a drink of wine or beer here and there ? I hope we haven’t become that petty. And can we add that even as to food, you cann0t buy pre-cooked food with EBT ? Go to Market Basket — where because of super low prices almost all EBT people in our region shop — and look at the pre-cooked chickens, pork, and turkey: too bad, Bub, you have to pay for those with cash. No EBT allowed !

In any case, the legislature a few months ago amended the EBT regulations to prohibit EBT use for purchase of cigarettes and liquor. And the Governor signed the legislation.  Hope you’re happy now…

Finally, we at Here and Sphere just find this entire wave of beating up on those in opur state who live on the edge of survival about as low as it gets. What possesses us to chaff the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow citizens ? Is that the way we want to perform our duties of citizenship to the whole community ? Do we think that leaning on the very vulnerable somehow makes us a better place ? Is this really our big priority by way of government reform in Massachusetts ? More important than infrastructure and transportation improvements ? than education updates ? We at Here and Sphere hope not.

— the Editors