Welfare program abuse prevention measure needs some fixes

Welfare program abuse prevention measure needs some fixes

by
Dustin Hurst
February 22, 2012
Dustin Hurst
Author Image
February 22, 2012

A bill crafted to stop some welfare recipients from using public dollars to pay for tattoos, adult entertainment, body piercings and alcohol, among other things, advanced out of the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee Tuesday, but changes are needed to make the plan legal and passable.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, would prevent recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho (TAFI) from using the money they receive on items that don’t provide for their general welfare.

The measure passed with unanimous backing, but amendments are coming. Perry said one change involves a small group of people who, according to federal rule, can’t have their benefits restricted. The other change is a minor language clarification supported by the Idaho Retailers Association.

The TAFI program, administered by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, is problematic, Perry says, because of the flexibility afforded to program recipients. Recipients are given cash allotments each month on state-issued debit cards and benefactors can use the money as they please.

But it’s that freedom, Perry believes, that needs to be restricted. “This is what taxpayers want to know,” Perry said, “that their money is being spent correctly.”

The bill would ask businesses peddling tattoos, alcohol, body piercings and adult entertainment items to stop patrons from using the TAFI cards at their establishments. It would also ask that businesses be cognizant of TAFI recipients who use ATMs to access cash and then use money on the prohibited items.

The TAFI program has a maximum monthly benefit of $309 and payments are indexed to income. If someone qualifies for the program, but has a higher wage level, that person receives less than the full amount. Slightly less than 2,000 people are TAFI recipients.

Perry says the plan isn’t perfect, but that it’s something that can be done to prevent program abuses. “I don’t believe this is 100 percent foolproof,” Perry said of enforcement. “There’s only so much the department can do.”

The Nampa Republican expects critics to howl about the legislation, but says public money should come with certain restrictions. “When you are using someone else’s nickel, you can’t have everything you want,” Perry concluded.

 

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