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Watchdog Group’s EBT Abuse Probe Appears to Spark Bipartisan Support for Reform

Gov. Bill Haslam says the state should consider tightening rules for where welfare recipients can use their taxpayer-funded benefits.

“One of the questions people always have about benefits is, are they being used in the right way? I think, obviously, that’s part of our responsibility,” Haslam told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday.

A recent report from the investigative arm of The Beacon Center found that some people benefiting from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program were using their allowances at venues including a strip club, bar, tobacco shop, high-end clothing stores and Graceland.

The free-market think tank reviewed thousands of transactions using electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards, which work like debit cards. The investigation examined usage in MemphisChattanooga and Knoxville.

Unlike other programs for the needy that are restricted to food products, TANF benefits, as much as $500 per month, can be used in whatever way the beneficiary sees fit.

Haslam said he knew nothing about the reported use of EBT cards but said he would inquire as to whether there is something the state can do to restrict where funds are accessed.

Top House Democrat Craig Fitzhugh agreed that the state may need to tighten the reins on how those dollars are used, although he said the state should stick using the EBT cards because they’re safer than using paper checks.

“I don’t have any problem with tightening those regulations up so the few don’t abuse,” Fitzhugh said. “It certainly gives the whole a bad name.”

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