Missouri taxpayers are fronting the cost of welfare benefits for recipients who may not even live in the state, a recent audit suggested. State legislators are considering legislation to curb such long-term out-of-state usage, but the proposals may also open up potential for new abuses.
Missouri taxpayers cover 19 percent of the cost of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, cash benefits that are distributed on an electronic benefits transaction (EBT) card alongside Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families (SNAP) benefits.
In December 2013, the state auditor reported 366 instances where welfare beneficiaries had received Missouri EBT cards but had accessed their cumulative $461,000 in benefits exclusively out-of-state for three months or more. These included one beneficiary who accessed $1,191 over 153 days spent in the Virgin Islands.
Legislation proposed in Missouri would suspend benefits for any recipient who goes more than 90 days without making a single in-state transaction, terminating them for anyone found to no longer be a resident.
David Stokes, director of local government policy at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri free-market think tank, says such legislation would make sense, especially in light of the December audit.
“It’s imperative that, in order to make sure that the people who truly need help in Missouri get the help that they need, the state does everything it can to prevent fraud and abuse,” he says. “I think this bill and a 90-day limit is a good step toward that.”
But Janette Mott Oxford, the executive director of the Missouri Association of Social Welfare, says, that it makes sense that state benefits aren’t only spent at home, especially given that Missouri borders eight states.