|Working Together to Reduce Public Assistance Fraud & Abuse|
This year I am co-sponsoring legislation designed to reduce instances of fraud and abuse of temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) benefits. Senate Bill 251, sponsored by myself and Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, would prohibit TANF recipients from using any electronic benefit transfer (EBT) funds in any liquor store, casino or other gaming establishment, adult-oriented business, places of amusement or entertainment recreation, and games or athletic events. The measure also prohibits the use of public assistance funds to purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or lottery tickets. Violators would be required to reimburse the Department of Social Services.
Missouri taxpayers who are providing assistance to help low-income families, single parents and others make ends meet must be reassured those tax dollars are not being used frivolously. Public assistance is meant to help struggling families put food on the table and to provide shelter, clothing and other basic necessities. Liquor, cigarettes and lottery tickets do not qualify under any circumstance, and taxpayers have a right to know their dollars are being spent wisely. These types of fraud and abuse undermine the whole rationale for helping needy families.
Under this legislation, individuals, store owners and other establishments that accept TANF cash transfers on EBT cards may not allow those funds to be used to purchase the items prohibited in the legislation. Those who knowingly violate the act face a $500 fine for the first offense and up to a $1,000 fine for subsequent offenses. TANF recipients who violate the provisions of SB 251 may be charged with a Class D misdemeanor, unless the face value of the EBT card is less than $500, in which case the offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor. Those found guilty of unlawfully using or receiving public assistance benefits could face up to 120 days in the Department of Corrections unless full restitution is made to the state of Missouri within 30 days of the execution of sentence.
This bill is simply an attempt to make sure that people who are receiving public assistance are using that money properly and in accordance with state law. We are not singling out TANF recipients for drug testing or any other discriminatory idea that lawmakers have considered in previous sessions. When we provide tax credits to businesses to create or retain jobs, we expect those businesses to be accountable and to use those tax dollars responsibly. The same principle should apply to public assistance. To provide a measure of accountability, SB 251 requires the Department of Social Services to establish and maintain a statewide toll-free hotline, operated eight hours each day during the work week, to receive complaints of suspected public assistance fraud.
The Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 251 Monday night upon adjournment of Senate floor debate. The committee will hopefully vote the legislation "due pass" in the next few weeks. Then the measure would be ready for potential debate by the full Senate.
|EBT Cards Used Outside the Show-Me State|
The Missouri Department of Social Services provides a state breakdown of where Missouri benefits are spent. In January, Missouri EBT cards were used to withdraw more than $360,000 outside the state, many instances in popular vacation states such as:
- Arizona - $4,579.36
- California - $7,818.18
- Colorado - $4,943.52
- Florida - $9,737.32
- Georgia - $6,989.32
- Nevada - $1,633.66
- New York - $2,837.79
- Texas - $20,981.27
During that same timeframe, Missourians purchased more than $3.5 million worth of food using EBT cards outside the state in popular vacation states such as:
- Arizona – $35,000.47
- California - $69,672.64
- Colorado - $32,201.02
- Florida - $84,061.70
- Georgia - $41,650.85
- Nevada - $17,967,64
- New York - $16,620,16
- Texas - $139,763,72
*In addition, more than $750 worth of ATM fees from EBT card users were paid by Missouri taxpayers.
|Video: Senate Bill 199 Approved By Senate|
This week, the Senate approved one of my sponsored bills dealing with long-term care facilities and family involvement. Senate Bill 199, would require that our nursing and retirement homes encourage and support policies that promote family involvement in the well-being and support of relatives who are residents. In this video, I present my legislation to members of the Senate and compare my proposal to Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO) adopted by school districts throughout the country.
COMMUNITY NEWS -
MARIA IN THE NEWS -
CITIZENS COMMENTS -
"Thank you for supporting freedom of religion in the state of Missouri by taking a stand against SB 676. This legislation and similar types of legislation unfairly target religious communities and would limit our religious freedoms in the state of Missouri. I would like to once again thank you for countering SB 676 and supporting religious freedom." - Jordanaia
"Maria, thanks for the help that you give to labor. I will catch up with you next week." - Jeff
"Dear Senator Chappelle-Nadal – Thank you very much for the birthday wishes! You are the most famous person who sent me birthday greetings!" - Norbert
"Your bill to eliminate food stamp fraud will save state taxpayers money. I also suggest that store cashiers should be required to check photo IDs to validate purchase using EBT cards. EBT cards could be sold at a discount by people who cannot buy alcohol drinks with EBT. God Bless you for your service." - Tony
"It was a pleasure to read the Kansas City Star article this morning about your sponsoring of SB 251, and I applaud you in your efforts to curb the problem of welfare recipients abusing their benefits. I witness this abuse weekly at grocery stores, convenience stores and numerous other places by people who have learned to 'work the system.' It's time to take a stand and I thank you for your hard work and effort on our behalf." - Jane
"Hello, I have never taken the opportunity to thank a member of the Senate or congress before, especially since I feel the majority of the time there is a disconnect between the representatives and the majority of their constituents. However, I just read a blurb on the bottom of the television regarding a new bill you are sponsoring to end the abuse of welfare funds, and I was immediately compelled to say thank you! As a mother of three small children, my husband is fortunate enough to earn a decent living. And by decent, I mean we can afford a home and two cars, but even with me working part time, we still struggle to make ends meet. Our children have all had severe allergy problems as babies and were required to be on a very expensive formula, and because we both work, we didn't qualify for any type of assistance or coverage through our insurance and had to sacrifice a lot to provide for our family. I was saddened to find out that largely due to the fact we were married it put us in a category where there is little to no help. I can't tell you how many times I have been in line at stores and seen women wearing expensive clothing, carrying expensive purses, nails and hair done, and talking on top-of-the-line smart phones using their public assistance to pay for carts full of items I myself cannot afford. So for your small step in the right direction when it comes to abusing the system, I thank you. I say thank you as a taxpayer, as a working mother, and as citizen who is fed up with those who work and abuse the system intended to help those who really NEED it!" - Susan
"Thank you so much for co-sponsoring these two bills. 'Temporary assistance' is more like 'life-long' assistance in this area. You may also be dismayed to know that some will sell their cards for 50 cents on the dollar. Why? To buy drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. When recipients can get cash from these cards, it surely, in most cases, is not to put food on the table. The ones who suffer from these irresponsible adults is always the children. If SB 251 passes, I surely hope that the complaints are followed up on, not just someone answering the phone.These two bills MUST BE PASSED! Thank You." - Nancy
WEEK END REVIEW -
Friday, March 1 – Sunday, March 3, 2013
Saturday evening I was honored to attend the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA)-St. Louis chapter's 40th Lunar New Year Banquet. The event highlighted their annual Youth Leadership Scholarship winners, and special guests included the Executive Director of OCA-National, and Rebecca Wu, former KSDK-TV anchor. For the past 40 years, OCA-St. Louis has hosted the annual Lunar New Year celebration with more than 200 corporate and community leaders.
Sunday, I attended the monthly Women in the Neighborhood (WIN) meeting. I always appreciate open forums and the valuable information that is discussed and the interaction with community members.
I also studied some tax policy over the weekend break. I was preparing to offer an amendment that would help lower-income families in legislation pending in the Senate that would modify various taxation laws (SB 26). I was successful in adding language that would increase the exemption amount by $2,000 for individuals with a Missouri gross income of less than $20,000 a year. Senate bill 26 still needs another round of approval in the Senate before moving to the House for similar consideration.
DEUCE OF THE WEEK -
I was pleased to welcome the "Soaring Eagles" from Brittany Woods Middle School to Jefferson City this week. The team provided a robotics demonstration during the K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Day at the Capitol.