By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – Officials with the Iowa Department of Human Services have refused to make welfare transactions public, saying federal banking laws prohibit them from doing so.
Iowa Watchdog requested in January a month’s worth of transactions from debit cards issued to the state’s welfare recipients under the Family Investment Program, which is funded with federal and state dollars.
Other states, including Pennsylvania, New Mexico and New York, have released similar information. The records showed ATM withdrawals and purchases at liquor stores, strip clubs and bars.
Iowa, however, is different from other states because it contracts with Xerox to provide a majority of welfare recipients with the debit cards. A number of other states run their own program. Iowa also doesn’t lump the program in with others aimed at helping the poor, said Roger Munns, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services. That affects what’s public. For example, states are required to track food stamp purchases under federal law but do not have to monitor welfare expenditures.
“The Department of Human Services is prohibited from using the Family Investment Program electronic access card to track the places where individuals redeem their benefits,” Munns said in a written response to Iowa Watchdog’s request. “The job of the department is to accurately determine eligibility and to provide benefits … The state has no ability to monitor the cardholder’s use of the funds, or the size or number of transactions generated against the card account.”
Munns declined to further discuss the matter, saying he would not change his mind on the matter and to put further correspondence in writing.
Contact Sheena Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org.