State will be forced to create restrictions on welfare spending - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

State will be forced to create restrictions on welfare spending

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Mississippi's temporary assistance for needy families program, or TANF as it's called, pays out an average $1.5 million every year.

"Of course the intention is, especially in TANF, is to assist in raising that child, to help pay rent, to help buy clothes and to make up the additional amount of dollars it would take to feed a household," said State operations director for economic assistance David Noble.

How that money is spent though, is up to the recipient. Noble says in Mississippi, there's no oversight to what TANF money, also called tax dollars, can be spent on.

"It's just like a working individual who has their paycheck and then they go pay their bills or use it for whatever purpose the feel they need it to serve," said Noble.

Across the country restrictions are being put in place to stop welfare recipients from spending benefits on items like lottery tickets, liquor and cigarettes and in places like casinos, bars and businesses for adult entertainment.

"It's not against the law with TANF. They're not using it for the purpose it was intended but there are no restrictions on that," said Noble.

While Mississippi has yet to put those restrictions in place, a federal mandate will require lawmakers to do so by 2014.

"We're hoping the federal government will give the state flexibility so we can do this in the most cost effective manner that we can," said director of human services policy at the National Conference of State Legislatures, Sheri Steisel.

Steisel says the new law is a result of more and more states seeing misuse of welfare money.

"We need to make sure that the benefits that people are entitled to because of their economic circumstances are used in an appropriate fashion," said Steisel.

When restrictions are in effect for Mississippi, a foreseeable problem Noble says is limiting the places for those who honor the intention of the system.

"It's hard to pinpoint one location, for example, an ATM inside a casino. If you restrict that location, you're basically restricting all ATMs for that particular bank," said Noble.

If Mississippi doesn't have those restrictions in place by the 2014 deadline, the state will face cuts in federal money.

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