Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, wants to prevent certain state welfare dollars from being spent on tattoos, lottery tickets, cigarettes, alcohol or adult entertainment.
Perry introduced a bill Thursday in the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee to prevent that type of thing from happening and the measure will receive a formal hearing next week.
The legislation wouldn’t apply to all welfare programs administered by the state, but would rather focus solely on the Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho (TAFI). This program is unlike most other welfare programs in that recipients are given cash to covers needs, which is put on state-issued debit cards also used for food stamps.
TAFI has a 24-month lifetime limit for recipients and the maximum benefit is $309 per month. Recipients are required to participate in certain activities to qualify, including work searches and trainings.
The program is administered by the state, but the money is ultimately provided by the federal government through a block grant.
Perry did not cite any known cases of the money being used for tattoos, lottery tickets, adult entertainment cigarettes or alcohol, but says state law doesn’t explicitly prevent it from happening. “We would have to be proactive rather than reactive on this,” Perry said.
Under Perry’s bill, those caught misusing the funds could be penalized by the state in varying degrees, but a larger offense could mean a misdemeanor for an offender.
Businesses would play a large role in enforcement because they would be asked to prevent TAFI recipients from using their cash cards at places dealing in the things Perry wants to prevent.
But the cards present a problem for the state in that they can be used at ATMs and recipients can access cash. Under the measure, the state would track ATM use to monitor if TAFI recipients are using their cards at ATMs in or around casinos, strip clubs or tattoo parlors. “Technology has come a long way and that aids us in these types of reports,” Perry told committee members of the state’s tracking efforts.
Perry doesn’t mind helping needy families, but would like to see the money go toward rent, food and clothing.
If the state doesn’t address the issue, it may receive some attention at the federal level. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing national legislation that would essentially do the same thing as Perry’s bill because they say welfare dollars are being frittered in similar programs across the country.
The Hill reports that Congressman Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., is the backer of the bill to close the loopholes. “It’s pretty rampant around the country,” Boustany told the publication of the cash program’s abuses. “This has really eroded the credibility of the program in the eyes of the American taxpayer — a program that has been successful, by and large.”
The federal measure would give states two years to develop their own rules to comply and states not in conformance would have their cash assistance program money docked.
“We have an obligation to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately,” Boustany told The Hill.