BATON ROUGE, LA (KMSS) — The 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 include lingerie stores, tattoo shops, nail salons and jewelry stores. FITAP and KCSP provide cash assistance to help pay only for a family's ongoing basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing.
The 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.
"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."
EBT cards can no longer be used at:
• Any retail establishment 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
• 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
In addition to the emergency rule, 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.
"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.
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.
Recipients who violate the rule will have their benefits stopped for 12 months on the first offense, 24 months on the second offense and permanently on the third offense. DCFS will rely 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.