State loophole allows use of welfare cards to bail out of jail



Posted on February 17, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 17 at 11:27 PM

SPOKANE -- A KREM 2 Investigation has found that tax payer dollars can be used to bail out of jail.  It is a loophole in the state of Washington's welfare program.

The EBT Quest card replaced the food stamp program.  It is a state funded debit card.  State welfare dollars can be used to bail out of jail and it is perfectly legal.
A man KREM 2 News interviewed, who only wants be known as John, said inmates constantly use welfare dollars to bail out.  John asked that his identity be hidden because he has family members who work for the jail.

"So we found out that they were actually using these cards when they were booked into the County Jail.  They were signing them out to their bail bondsmen and [giving] them a pin.  These people walk to an ATM, get the bail money and use that money to bail these people out of jail.  And I thought it was just unreal," said John. 

At the County jail, inmates are booked and their personal property is stored.  They can request items be picked up by filling out an inmate property release form.  Captain John McGrath said his staff noticed bondsmen picking up EBT Quest cards.

"Bail bondsmen come in everyday sometimes and all day they'll come in 24/7 to bond somebody out," said McGrath.

McGrath said it is frustrating but there is nothing they can do about it.
"It doesn't matter what the request is for to be released.  Whatever item they want to release they have the right to release it.  We're just doing our job," said McGrath.
The EBT Quest card does not have to travel far.  Within several blocks of the jail are plenty of bailbond offices where that bond can be processed.  KREM 2 News spoke with several local bail bondsmen.  They all denied taking EBT cards for bond.  But no one can trace cash.  An EBT card can be used to pull cash at any ATM.  The average monthly allowance is around $450.

John said cards are handed off daily.  A Department of Social and Health Services representative said she never heard of people purchasing bail bonds with EBT cards.  But it is happening and right now the only use prohibited by state regulation is gambling.

It would require state legislation to change the EBT card system.  There are several bills proposed this year that would put more restrictions on EBT cards.