BY BRIAN R. HOOK FOR MISSOURI WATCHDOG – In response to an investigation that reveals residents of Missouri receiving welfare benefits are spending taxpayer money in top vacation spots, a state lawmaker introduced a bill requiring in-state purchases.

Rep. Mark Parkinson, a Republican from from St. Charles, introduced House Bill 816 on Wednesday. The bill would require all purchases made by public assistance recipients to be in-state purchases only.

Documents provided by the Missouri Department of Social Services reveal that Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which allow states to provide benefits via a plastic debit card, were used by welfare recipients to withdraw $362,682 in cash outside of Missouri in January. The cards were also used to purchase $3.5 million worth of food outside Missouri.

While many of the purchases were in neighboring states — Missouri borders eight states — many charges were in hard to reach places, including vacation spots such as FloridaCalifornia and even Hawaii.

In FloridaMissouri EBT users purchased $84,061 in food and withdrew $9,737 from automated teller machines. In California, EBT users from the Show-Me State purchased $69,672 worth of food and withdrew $7,818 from ATMs. And in HawaiiMissouri EBT users spent $2,737 on food and withdrew $175 in cash from ATMs in January.

There are many perfectly understandable reasons why Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, funds might be spent outside of Missouri, said Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, a Democrat from St. Louis.

“Having grown up on the Ohio River in southern Illinois, I know that the closest place to get cheaper groceries for many of us was across the river in Kentucky,” she told Missouri Watchdog. ”I am sure that some folks in Hannibal may need to shop in Quincy, Illinois to get a better deal on some items with their very limited TANF funds.”

Oxford also noted that people using TANF have relatives who live in other states and the recipient may have to go provide emergency care to a family member. “TANF recipients are so poor they seldom travel for vacations, but many human beings do have loved ones in another state and need to see them now and then,” she said.

By Brian R. Hookbrhook@missouriwatchdog.org

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