Covering Louisiana

Mar 20, 2014 7:42 PM by Dave Fields

New rule: Lingerie--edible or not--unacceptable for food stamp card purchases

No longer can food stamp cards in Louisiana be used in tattoo shops, nail salons, jewelry stores, and lingerie stores, apparently even if the purchase is for edible panties, according to program rules.

On Thursday, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) implemented an emergency rule to further prohibit the use of Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP) and Kinship Care Subsidy Program (KCSP) benefits at certain types of retailers that "provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment purposes or adult bookstores or adult paraphernalia and any sexually oriented business," a DCFS release said.

"We want to ensure that these federal assistance benefits are used appropriately and not at locations that do not help a family meet basic needs," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "This rule will not affect families who currently use the program as intended, which is to provide food, shelter and clothing for families."

DCFS noted that Thursday's enforcement of the new rule is aimed at preventing electronic benefit transfer (EBT) transactions at specific types of stores, vendors and establishments which sell goods or provide services determined to be inconsistent with the purpose of the cash assistance programs and not necessary for basic needs. State Representative Chris Broadwater is working with DCFS to create new legislation to support the rule and allow DCFS to fine retailers who are not following the proper guidelines.

The release said that the DCFS is pursuing "legislation to clarify authorized uses of cash assistance benefits and limits use of benefits at certain types of retailers, including lingerie stores, tattoo shops, and nail salons."

First-offense violators will have their benefits stopped for 12 months. Second-time offenders lose benefits for 24 months. Third-offense violators lose their benefits permanently.

"FITAP and KCSP provide cash assistance to help pay only for a family's ongoing basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing," DCFS clarified in the release, which included a list of retailers at which EBT cards no longer would be accepted:

Any retail establishment that
Any nail salon
Any tattoo, piercing, or commercial body art facility
Any jewelry store
Any amusement or video arcade
Any bail bonds company
Any nightclub, bar, tavern, or saloon
Any cruise ship
Any psychic business
Any establishment where persons under age 18 are not permitted

"My constituents raised some concerns about where cash benefits are being used," said Rep. Broadwater. "By working with DCFS to craft necessary legislation, I hope that we can meet the spirit of intent of the program while also ensuring that state and federal tax dollars are being used appropriately."

In March 2013, DCFS passed a rule which stated that cash benefits can no longer be used in EBT transactions at liquor stores, gaming establishments, or adult entertainment establishments. Benefits could also no longer be used at any store to buy tobacco products, alcohol or lottery tickets.

Recent reports in 2014 have brought more attention to the issue. DCFS provided statistics about FITAP assistance in Thursdays's release:

"In February 2014, there were 3,479 households receiving FITAP assistance totaling nearly $670,000. In order to receive FITAP, you must be a single or disabled parent with children. The average payment in Louisiana is $192 per month. There were also 2,437 households receiving $1.02 million in KCSP benefits, with an average payment of $419 a month."

As usual, DCFS relies on retailers and the public to help report suspected fraud, as well as randomly review monthly transactions for possible use at prohibited locations. If a member of the public suspects someone is illegally receiving public assistance benefits or is illegally using an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, they should fill out DCFS' online complaint form at www.dcfs.la.gov/ReportFraud or call 1-888-LAHELP-U and select option 7 from the main menu.

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