by Sam Levin
Should welfare recipients in Missouri be banned from using their benefits at strip clubs and liquor stores?
Governor Jay Nixon has officially signed into law a bill supported by Republicans and Democrats that aims to curb public assistance fraud and specifically prohibits the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds at liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment establishments.
"Here in Missouri, we believe in protecting taxpayers and strengthening families - and that is what these programs are designed to do," Nixon says in a statement. "By strengthening existing protections for taxpayers and children, and cracking down on those who misuse public funds, this bill will help ensure these programs continue to provide temporary support for needy families and children in a proper and accountable way."
Under Senate Bill 251, full language on view below, an individual, store owner or proprietor of an establishment is banned from accepting TANF cash assistance funds held on Electronic Benefits Transfer cards for specified liquor, gambling and adult-oriented purchases.
If they violate the law, they could face fines of up to $500 for the first offense, up to $1,000 for a second offense and more for a third offense.
Additionally, if a TANF recipient is caught violating this provision, he or she would have to reimburse the Department of Social Services for the purchase.
The bill also increases penalties for fraud, including the unlawful receipt, conversion or transfer of public assistance benefits.
State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, released a statement praising the bill's passage:
Our bill encourages the Department of Social Services to create an investigative structure to prevent these funds from being used in casinos, liquor stores and other inappropriate places. By signing our bill, the governor continues his policy and legacy of targeting fraud and abuse of state tax dollars.
The station reported that Missouri TANF users were withdrawing money from strip clubs in Las Vegas, a gambling center in the Virgin Islands, a saloon in Texas -- and more.
Here's a copy of the legislation, signed yesterday.