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article imageLouisiana cracks down on welfare dollar acceptance

By Nicole Weddington     Mar 24, 2014 in Politics
New limits enacted and announced recently by Louisiana social service officials prohibit welfare recipients from using their benefits to make purchases from tattoo parlors, lingerie retailers, nail salons, and jewelry stores.
In an attempt to streamline a system that is meant to help those in need, the new measure seeks to define use of federal assistance in transactions that are deemed necessary basic expenses. Getting a tattoo and purchasing a piece of jewelry clearly fall far outside of basic living expenses.
In addition to barring tattoos, manicures, and adornments the regulation also bans using the federally-funded aid to pay for items and services in video arcades, cruise ships, bail bond companies, psychics, adult-entertainment businesses, nightclubs, bars and any businesses where minors are not allowed.
These emergency regulations were announced by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). This department manages the Family Independence and Temporary Assistance Program, also known as welfare benefits, and the Kinship Care Subsidy Program in Louisiana. Both programs allocate assistance to low-income families through cash that is provided on debit cards. The cash is mean to be used for staples, such as food, clothing, and housing.
Suzy Sonnier, DCFS Secretary says the agency banned the use of electronic benefit cards in locations that do not provide basic staples. Those stores simply do not sell items considered necessary for survival even if they do provide grants for single mothers.
"This rule will not affect families who currently use the program as intended, which is to provide food, shelter and clothing for families," Sonnier said in a statement.
According to DCFS, this new measure will affect approximately 3,500 households receiving welfare benefits an about 2,400 households receiving kinship care subsidies. On average, monthly benefits paid are $192 for welfare and $419 for kinship care.
The reason for this emergency regulation? About one week ago, a Baton Rouge TV station, WAFB, reported on a lingerie store whose window advertised accepting welfare benefits cards in addition to major credit cards. This got the attention of the state and many taxpayers.
The punishment for violation of the ban? Welfare benefits will cease for one year for a first offense, two years in a second offense, and permanently after a third offense. DCFS is also seeking repercussions from retailers, pushing for legislation that allows the state to fine retailers who do not follow guidelines. Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond will be sponsoring the bill.
This is almost a necessary step because tracking violations will be extremely difficult, considering that the benefits card allows for cash withdrawals at ATMs. Tracking use of that cash is nearly impossible.
"I hope that we can meet the spirit of intent of the program while also ensuring that state and federal tax dollars are being used appropriately," Broadwater said in a statement.
The DCFS hopes that businesses, retailers, and the community as a whole will band together to prevent misuse of funds provided by taxpayers, to help keep a program that is meant to help the needy get back on their feet.
The state of Louisiana has an interesting task at hand in tracing misuse of these funds once they are converted to cash.
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