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Upcoming stricter rules in EBT use prompts Missouri state auditor to investigate Department of Social Services

Recipients in a food assistance program could be abusing the system, according to Missouri’s state auditor.

EBT abuse isn’t just an issue in Missouri.

Massachusetts is the most recent state to release results of an EBT investigation.

Horror stories from other states is one issue that prompted Missouri’s audit.

A deputy state auditor told ABC 17 News they want to make sure the Department of Social Services issues EBT accounts only to those who qualify and also monitors their spending.

“Lottery, liquor, ammunition, adult entertainment, gentleman’s clubs…those are places you can’t go with these cards,” Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto told ABC 17 News.

EBT cards look and work just like a normal debit card.

But these cards have restrictions that are sometimes ignored by recipients.

“Today you can take these cards into a grocery store and buy legitimate items, but if you’re not careful, you might end up buying tobacco as well, or liquor, and those are things that are hard to monitor,” Otto said. “It’s hard to police every single transaction, every time.”

The state auditor’s office said they had even seen rare cases in the past where an EBT card was used to fund a vacation.

While EBT abuse isn’t a new issue, the penalties for breaking the rules will become more strict starting next February.

The state can be held liable for the misuse of government funds, meaning Missouri will have to pay the federal government the amount of money spent on restricted purchases.

Otto said this is another reason why they decided to audit the DSS on the EBT program.

“Going forward, we have to have our house in order or we could be in a situation where, although we can’t collect money back from the beneficiary or the recipient, we’ll have to send the money back to the federal government because it was used inappropriately,” Otto said.

He said the auditor’s office wants to make sure the DSS is following up on all EBT accounts, the person using them and their transactions.

ABC 17 News tried to get in contact with the DSS Wednesday to ask about EBT policies, but did not hear back from officals.

The auditor’s office said the final audit report will probably be finished and released within a few months.

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