A Whistleblower 2 Investigation revealed that welfare recipients are spending thousands of dollars on non-essentials such as strip clubs, liquor stores and even golf. What government waste critics have to say about the government's lack of response.
Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher visited the Wild Animal Safari Park in Pine Mountain, 75 miles south of Atlanta. Recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Georgia's welfare program, spent $280 at the Safari Park last year.
Our Channel 2 Action News investigation went line by line through over a million TANF card transactions and flagged suspicious transactions to investigate further. Channel 2 found purchases at strip clubs and liquor stores and of Godiva chocolates and even golf.
Belcher asked the Department Children and Family Services, DFCS, the state department that manages the TANF cards, if anything can be done about it. Rachelle Carnesale, the director of DFCS, told Belcher, those purchases were allowable because there was no way to determine what exact purchase was made.
"We are just shoveling money out of the door at the federal level, and people are being able to use it for this stuff. It's an outrage," said Leslie Paige, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
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Our investigation revealed hundreds of swipes at liquor stores across Georgia. C H Liquor on McDonough Boulevard received $13,494 in TANF cards swipes. TANF recipients swiped their cards at strip clubs across Atlanta, including Club Onyx on Cheshire Bridge Road and Club Wax in southwest Atlanta.
TANF recipients spent hundreds at the Governor's Golf Course, a private golf club in Acworth. Thousands more were spent on entertainment, including Six Flags Park and bowling alleys. Recipients of TANF money spent $400 at the Godiva chocolates store in Austell.
Carnesale told Belcher the federal government allows some discretion in a program that is intended to promote independence in families rearing children. Carnesale admitted some things our investigation revealed are frustrating to her, but identifying precise expenditures is not easy.
"There is currently no way for us to tell, given information that we have, whether someone withdrew cash to use on a debit card for the benefit of the child or purchased an item or bought alcohol," said Carnesale.
Carnesale acknowledged that the public will not be happy with Channel 2's findings, but there is no indication that federal officials are on the verge of changing the policy governing federal welfare money.
Paige told Belcher she things the government should fix that issue. "Taxpayers ought to contact their federal officials, their local representatives to congress to complain about the lack of rigor and oversight in this program," Paige said.
Pete Sepp, of the National Taxpayers Union, told Belcher it is time to make the rules the same for food stamps and TANF money.
"There are already at least some rules as to what food stamps can buy. There need to be other rules about what kinds of cash anti-poverty benefits can buy. Otherwise we are going to continue to see this kind of abuse," said Sepp.
If you suspect welfare fraud, DHS and DFCS wants you call call this hotline: 1-800-282-4063.