WKYT Investigates: Taxpayer money and Kentucky's 'Pop Train'

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JACKSON, Ky. (WKYT) - Some say it's an easy way to turn government welfare benefits into cash. It's even been nicknamed Kentucky's Pop Train.

"It happens everyday. We see it often," said Jackson Police Chief Ken Spicer.

WKYT's Miranda Combs investigated after receiving numerous calls telling WKYT to be at the Jackson Walmart or Save-A-Lot at the first of the month when SNAP benefits -- or food stamps -- are given out. The callers and Jackson's police chief told WKYT there would be people pushing and unloading carts and carts full of pop.

"I'm a big believer if you have it and someone needs it, give it to them. If they are going to use it for the right reasons," said Bryan Combs, a Jackson city council member and Breathitt County native.

The councilman says the "pop train" bothers him because he says taxpayer dollars are being taken out of Jackson stores by the 12-pack.

Chief Spicer told WKYT people will buy the pop with food stamps, then turn around and sell it for cash. He says typically the sale is made to small convenience stores outside the Breathitt County line.

"You got these stores that if the Pepsi truck pulls up or the Coke truck, and they're having to pay $5.50 a case and they sell it for $7 a case, they're going to make $1.50," said Spicer. "But if they can buy for $4 a case off a person that's selling it, they are doubling their profit."

Spicer says it continues a cycle of profit that started with food stamps given to a person at taxpayer expense.

"There's nothing locally we can do about it. Unfortunately it's a federal issue," councilman Combs said.

WKYT brought the "pop train" to the attention of the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that oversees food stamps.

The USDA say the activity does fall under trafficking which can result in a person's benefits being taken away. But the USDA told WKYT that the enforcement falls to the state.

When WKYT talked to the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services, a spokesman said the cabinet hasn't heard of the "pop train" either. But they say if they do get calls about it, they will start a state investigation.

Both Combs and Chief Spicer say the problem is so bad, the shelves will be bare at the first of the month.

WKYT approached several people who walked out with carts full of soda. All of them said they didn't buy the cases with food stamps and that they just were just stocking up for the month.

"I ain't saying that all of it is for drugs, there's some people that are having to use it to live off of because of our economy," said Chief Spicer. "But you know there's people that sell this pop because their rent is $400 a month. Their electric bill is $300 or $400 a month. They draw $688. They have to use some that money to live off of."

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services says a ban on selling food items purchased with SNAP benefits is a relatively new provision, and they continue to work with local offices to ensure they understand the policy.

If you see this happening and want to report it, call the Cabinet for Health and Family Services at 1-800-372-2970.

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