48 Investigates: Should people be allowed to purchase guns with - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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48 Investigates: Should people be allowed to purchase guns with TANF benefits?

(WAFF) -

Alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and strip clubs all things that are off limits for people to buy with their welfare benefits.

However, there is one thing that is still fair game, guns.

They simply don't hit the list of restricted items lawmakers pushed to get outlawed after continued concern over people misusing their welfare benefits in the state.

First, it's important to know how welfare dollars are doled out in the state. All on an EBT card that functions like a debit card carrying both SNAP and TANF benefits.

SNAP, better known as food stamps can only go to just that, food. TANF,48 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is a cash benefit. On average
about $189 a month that can be withdrawn from an ATM to help supplement a family income.

It is that cash and tracking how it is used that worried lawmakers like Senator Arthur Orr over the potential for fraud and misuse of taxpayer-funded dollars and he heard the same from his constituents.

"Quite frankly anger, at the cash register where people here in Alabama will be in the checkout line at the grocery store and they would see an individual ringing up their groceries and pull out their EBT card and have a 12 pack a beer and a carton of cigarettes and quite frankly before this bill passed last year, that was a legal transaction if it was TANF dollars to occur here in Alabama. Thankfully, now that is against the law," said Orr.

On top of alcohol and cigarettes, the law threw in tattoo parlors, strip clubs, psychics and lottery tickets which are now all restricted purchases with TANF dollars.

However, enforcement of that is hardly ironclad. How do you track cash?

Department of Human Resources Commissioner, Nancy Buckner admitted that there is no way to actually track the cash.

"You have to trust people that they are going to do things that are not illegal," said Buckner.

According to officials, so far there have not been any violations since the start of the policy.

"To date, we have not had any violations of this policy since July 2, 2014, since it was implemented," added DHR Assistant Director for TANF, Avis Hunter.

That does not mean they haven't received complaints.

"People get confused and they report things when you find out, there were no SNAP benefits on that card, there was only TANF on there. When somebody will say, well I saw somebody using their SNAP benefits to purchase a non-food item. Come to find out when we check it out, we find that it was TANF and it was ok for them to buy dish detergent," said Buckner.

Most complaints would come from the community, but DHR expects violators to report on themselves.

EBT fraud is a different story.

Back in June, a huge raid in Jefferson County involving 11 convenience stores resulted in multiple arrests after investigators found people would sell store owners their EBT cards for half the price.

They would then turn around and sell the food back in their stores.

"There is fraud in everything that is operated, whether it's DHR or some other entity," said Buckner.

DHR annually incurs about 10% of fraud under their government assistance program.

"We go out and we investigate every claim that comes in," said Buckner.

Also monitoring every swipe of the card and even social media for those trying to sell theirs.

Buckner admits it's impossible to catch everything.

"As a government you could spend millions and millions of dollars trying to monitor that it was spent correctly rather than deal with less than 10% of fraud," added Buckner.

One thing they don't have to monitor, the purchase of a gun with that TANF cash benefit which is totally legal in the state of Alabama.

"I don't think anybody would want to say that because you are poor that you do not have the right to protect yourself or your family," said Buckner.

Orr admits when lawmakers decided to add restrictions to TANF purchases, guns simply never came up.

"Wasn't suggested to my recollection anywhere in the legislative process. That's certainly something we can look at, at the legislative level and see if that is something that needs to be included." said Orr.

In the meantime, Buckner and other commissioners across the country believe a photo ID on the EBT card and requiring retailers to look at it when they use it would go a long way when it comes to stopping fraud.

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