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Louisiana bans use of welfare benefits for tattoos, lingerie, jewelry


FILE: May 8, 2012: A display is shown at State Farmers Market in Raleigh, N.C., which accepts food stamp recipients.AP

Louisiana welfare recipients will be prohibited from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under new limits enacted by state social services officials.

The Department of Children and Family Services announced the emergency regulations late Thursday. They cover the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program — commonly known as welfare benefits — and the Kinship Care Subsidy Program.

Both programs pay cash assistance to low-income families for items like food, clothing and housing.

DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier said the agency decided to ban the use of electronic benefit cards, which work as debit cards, at stores that don’t sell items that are considered basic needs for families.

“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.

About 3,500 households in Louisiana receive welfare benefits, and about 2,400 households get kinship care subsidies, according to the department. Average payments are $192 per month for welfare and $419 a month for kinship care.

The emergency regulations come a week after WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge reported that an Ascension Parish lingerie store posted a sign noting that it accepted the welfare benefits card along with most credit cards.

Also barred in the latest restrictions from taking welfare debit cards are video arcades, bail bond companies, cruise ships, psychics, adult-entertainment businesses, nightclubs, bars and any businesses where minors are not allowed.

Violators of the new regulations will stop receiving welfare benefits for a year for a first offense, two years for a second offense and permanently for a third offense, according to the social services department.

The department also said it is seeking to enact the restrictions in law and allow the state to fine retailers who don’t follow the guidelines. Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, will sponsor the bill for consideration in the current legislative session.

“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.

Last year, the social services agency enacted new regulations that banned the spending of welfare money on cigarettes, alcohol and lottery tickets. Those regulations also included prohibitions on the use of a welfare electronic benefit card at liquor stores, gambling sites and strip clubs, as required under a recently-passed federal law.

Tracking violations may be difficult, however, because the welfare money can be taken off the electronic benefit card as cash through an ATM. Social services officials said they rely on businesses and the public to report suspected violations.

6 people lose food stamps due to overspending during outage

Feb 24, 2014 7:30 PM PST


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Louisiana’s social services department said Monday it has stripped food stamps from six people who deliberately overspent their monthly benefits when the electronic service was down in October and was working to disqualify another 25 people.

Details of possible fraud also have been shared with local law enforcement, for district attorneys to decide if they want to prosecute people for knowingly breaching the limits on their monthly food stamp benefits.

The Department of Children and Family Services said it continues to work through the administrative hearing process, targeting 500 people out of 12,000 transactions that overspent available food stamp benefits four months ago during the system crash.

“The investigation and disqualification process is ongoing, and we expect it to result in additional disqualifications,” DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier said in a statement.

Several Louisiana retailers allowed food stamp recipients to make unlimited purchases on Oct. 12, when the electronic card system was down and balances couldn’t be checked. News reports showed carts at some stores piled high with groceries that were abandoned after the system was back online.

About 12,000 insufficient funds transactions were conducted when the contractor, Xerox Corp., had technical problems that shut down the system, though not all transactions are assumed to be intentionally fraudulent.      DCFS said it identified 500 deemed to be the “most egregious transgressors,” who took advantage of the computer snafu and tried to spend a combined $315,000 they didn’t have in available benefits. The transactions ranged from $300 to $2,000.

Letters were sent, targeting them for disqualification from the program. The department said it has received 113 responses so far.

The responses “have ranged from admitting to committing the fraudulent transactions, to declaring no knowledge of the transactions, and to stating that the retailer told the clients it was ‘okay’ to perform the transaction because ‘the government was shut down,’ ” Sonnier said.

No taxpayer dollars paid for the improper food stamp purchases because DCFS says it didn’t cover the costs of retailers who didn’t follow the outlined emergency process for when the electronic system crashes.

The sanctions under federal guidelines allow a one-year suspension of food stamps for a first offense, a two-year suspension for a second offense and a permanent disqualification from the program for a third offense, according to DCFS.

The agency said it provided state and local law enforcement with the information it has gathered about the overspending.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter has complained that state officials weren’t aggressively pursuing the overspending as food stamp fraud, and Treasurer John Kennedy recently criticized the department as being too lax in its response to known misuse of food stamps.

Vitter said more people should be punished for the overspending. He said he will push for more aggressive action Friday at a meeting with Sonnier and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

“Like many citizens, I am appalled by the outrageous theft and fraud and believe there should be serious consequences for what occurred,” he said in a statement.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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