By John Zaremba and Chris Cassidy
A convicted drug dealer — who cops said wanted to use cash from his taxpayer-funded EBT card to post bail — is the new face of welfare abuse, according to tough-minded lawmakers who are pushing the reform-resistant Patrick administration for a crackdown.
Kimball Clark, 45, was locked up Friday on drug-dealing charges — again — when he was overheard using his one phone call to ask the person on the other end of the line to “get my EBT card and go to the ATM and get the money to bail me out, get me outa here tonight,” according to a Boston police report.
“It’s another outrage,” said state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton), a member of the EBT Task Force who criticized the group for failing to push tough restrictions on the use of the controversial cards. “When we were on the EBT Card Commission, I fought to get bail bondsmen on that list of places where people could not use their EBT cards. They fought me on it and told me people can’t use their EBT cards in that way.”
Beacon Hill was forced to mull reforms after the Herald reported people were spending welfare cash on booze, cigarettes and scratch cards.
“Obviously the Department of Transitional Assistance has no idea how people use these cards and how the cards work,” O’Connell said.
State Rep. Russell E. Holmes (D-Boston), another advocate for tough reforms, said he was hardly surprised that a drug suspect would try to bail himself out with money from a taxpayer-funded EBT card.
“It’s exactly the type of activity that can occur when folks are allowed to get money off their EBT card,” Holmes said.
Clark, who gave police a South End address, is charged with distribution of heroin within 1,000 feet of a school. He posted bail and was released, but it is unclear where he got the money. Police said he had $758 in cash on him when he was busted Friday in what cops say was a deal in progress in Dorchester, but that cash was seized. Efforts to reach Clark for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. It is unclear whether he has an EBT card assigned to him. His prior convictions include assault and battery in 2007 and cocaine possession with intent to distribute in 2006, according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.
Because cash is hard to trace, EBT-funded bail payments could be widespread, Holmes said. “One of the arguments I’ve heard is we don’t know how much fraud and abuse there is. But that’s the problem — we don’t know because there’s no way to track it. When it comes to how much of this has happened in jail, there’s no way for us to know that.”
O’Connell and other lawmakers filed a bill last week pushing for tougher regulations than those recommended by the EBT commission, which advised banning the cards at nail salons, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and casinos — but not at ATMs, jewelry stores, health clubs, rent-a-centers and cruise liners.
O’Connell’s bill specifically prohibits bail bondsmen from accepting EBT cards and bars cash access through ATMs. O’Connell said her bill also would have allowed the Boston police officer overhearing the suspect’s call to inform him he couldn’t use the card toward his bail.