ATLANTA -- Governor Nathan Deal was well aware of our investigation into tax dollars for the needy being cashed out in liquor stores, strip clubs and amusement parks. It had landed on his desk after we handed our findings over to the Department of Health.
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"Well of course it's an outrage anytime that public assistance that is paid for by taxpayer dollars is being abused. We're in the process of following it up with the Inspector General's Office," Gov. Deal said, when we sat down in his office to talk about our investigation.
The money comes from the federal government, and states, like Georgia, are required to administer the program. It's called TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
We were able to identify, what we believe to be, only a portion of the potential abuse where Electronic Benefit Cards were cashed in and money spent at liquor stores, out of state casinos, bars, strip clubs, tobacco shops and even Six Flags.
"Those are the kinds of things we want that information, we will follow up on it; contacts will be made to find out what excuse somebody might offer for that," the governor said. "I can't think of any that is an acceptable excuse and if we found those are violations, they will be taken off the benefit list."
There were more than 850,000 EBT transactions last year on those cards that are given to needy families to give provide them with monthly cash assistance to pay for food, clothes and shelter for children. We used computer software to help identify liquor stores, tobacco shops and other places where the money could be misused. However, many locations may not be easily identifiable by name or location because the transactions are passed through by third party vendors, which process the transactions. We discovered that oftentimes places like strip clubs don't use their actual trade name to process transactions on debit cards, credit cards and Electronic Benefit Cards. However, state auditors are now going through their own data to identify problems.
In the meantime, Gov. Deal said the state is working to implement a new federal law to restrict where those EBT cards can be used. Liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment businesses will no longer be allowed to accept those cards for purchases or at their ATMs. However, the law will not go into effect for another two years, which is why Gov. Deal is considering doing more now.
"We are also considering whether or not there needs to be legislation during this next upcoming session that would put a little more teeth into the provider community being able to accept these for improper purchases," he said.
If you know about fraud involving social benefits you can report it to the state at FRAUD HOTLINE: 877-423-4746. When you get the voice mail press 4, to get to the fraud center.