By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — Some Kansas welfare recipients are living large on the public dime, spending your tax dollars at liquor stores, strip clubs, smoke shops and casinos.
A Kansas Watchdog investigation has uncovered thousands of dollars in potentially abusive welfare transactions during a three-month period last year. From August to October 2012, Sunflower State welfare recipients withdrew more than $43,000 from ATMs at places like Golden Eagle Casino in Horton, Vegas Video Adult Superstore in Wichita and G Spot, a Junction City strip club, just to name a few.
The money in question is provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Administered nationally by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF funds are targeted at helping low-income families afford the bare essentials, such as gas and groceries.
In Kansas, where TANF funds are distributed via Electronic Benefit Transfer cards through the Kansas Department for Children and Families, a family of four can receive up to $497 every month.
The vast majority of transactions processed within the time frame Kansas Watchdog examined wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
In all, more than $1.5 million in transactions were made during the August to October period, meaning the questionable transactions Kansas Watchdog identified equal less than 3 percent of the total.
TANF recipients regularly make large purchases at places like Walmart, Walgreens, Dillons and other similar businesses, and it’s easy to see how a $300 transaction at Price Chopper could be a reasonable use of taxpayer money.
But what about the $102.25 one welfare recipient withdrew at Denver’s Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies?
Other questionable examples include the $203 transaction at Johnny’s Tavern in Kansas City’s popular Power and Light District, as well as the $83.60 another individual withdrew while attending the KC Renaissance Festival.
While some argue there’s no way to prove money withdrawn from these locations is being used inappropriately, it’s hard to believe there isn’t some abuse of the system.
The KDCF outlines specific spending restrictions on its website: TANF recipients may not use their government assistance to purchase alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets. It’s easy enough to control electronically; anyone trying to purchase such items with the physical EBT card will be greeted with a denied transaction.
But there’s a loophole.
While businesses can’t directly process EBT cards for such illicit purchases, most have ATMs conveniently located on the premises. With cash in hand, welfare recipients are able to skirt the law with relative ease.
Overall, the largest chunk of questionable EBT withdrawals took place at discount cigarette retailers and smoke shops, where recipients took out $19,302.42 during the three months.
Coming in a distant second, cash advance and payday loan locations accounted for $8,578.10, followed by liquor stores, $6500.98; casinos, $4,532.25; miscellaneous locations, $3,271.44; and bars and restaurants, $1,298.45
Questionable EBT withdrawal locations during August through October 2012 include, but are not limited to:
(May include multiple locations/transactions)
- Speedy Cash – $3,621.50
- Ace Cash Express – $4,956.60
- 7th Street Casino – $2,455
- Buffalo Run Casino – $218
- Choctaw Casino – $746
- Golden Eagle Casino – $704.75
- The Legends shopping center – $1,056
- Smoke Eazy – $922.50
- Bullfrogs Live – $102.5
- Dave and Busters – $387.50
Angela de Rocha, KDCF communications director, told Kansas Watchdog in a previous interview the state has no way to stop questionable withdrawals.
“You can take your Vision card into a strip joint or Disney Land or Graceland or wherever and use that to get cash,” de Rocha said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. We can’t control that.”
Kansas Watchdog reached out to Ken Thompson, director of the KDCF Fraud Investigation Unit, but he was unavailable for comment.
Kansas Watchdog received the welfare transaction data after a months-long battle to acquire the information from KDCF, which initially resisted an open records request seeking the information, but eventually relented.
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