Tennessee bill would crack down on EBT card abuse

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Tennessee lawmakers are looking to crack down on public assistance fraud.

Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards work like debit cards for people needing financial help from the government, but lawmakers said some are abusing the system.

We learned the federal government passed the Taxpayer Relief Act in 2012 which changed the way EBT cards work.

The act left some things up to the states to determine how the card can be used, and after finding some people cheating the system, Tennessee lawmakers are wanting to fill all the gaps.

It's not something that happens every day at Parkway Wine and Liquor in Bristol, Tennessee, but still it might surprise you.

"We do occasionally have somebody try to use the, what I call, a public assistance card," said Vickie Dugger, the owner of Parkway Wine and Liquor.

Dugger told News 5 it can happen as many as ten times a week.

The sales there are always unsuccessful, but Tennessee state Representative Jon Lundberg (R, 1st District) said some people on public assistance have found loopholes.

"We've had EBT cards in Tennessee that were used at a Best Buy, at a Sears, at a cabaret. Someone at an ATM at a liquor stores swiped the card and got $740 in cash," said Lundberg.

That's why a bill is going through the Tennessee General Assembly that would fine people for using EBT cards for alcohol, tattoos, gambling, or adult cabarets among other restrictions.

It would also fine businesses that allowed it.

"The EBT card isn't supposed to be utilized for tattooing and things like that. It's supposed to be used for sustenance; for basic food stuffs," Lundberg said.

Taxpayers helping to fund these programs told us tightening the restrictions are long overdue.

"If people would manage those EBT cards right, there would be more kids being fed by their parents," said Mary Shelton, a local resident.

"That's just taking advantage of it, and we're paying the price," Glenn Newman, another resident.

Here's an interesting fact we found out:

Representative Lundberg told us because of federal restrictions, the state can't stop people from using EBT cards to buy cigarettes.

But as for this bill, which would place many other limits, it passed the state Senate overwhelmingly.

Lundberg does expect it to pass through the state House and become law.

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