Lawmakers respond to Missouri, Illinois welfare money spent in Las Vegas

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by Chris Nagus

KMOV.com

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 9:45 PM

Updated Thursday, May 19 at 9:22 AM

(KMOV) -- Over the past six months, News 4 has uncovered abuse involving Missouri EBT and Illinois Link cards. 

In January and February the cards were used in all 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii. A look at transactions in Las Vegas revealed several thousand dollars worth of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) benefits were accessed near the big casinos and resorts.

In some cases those transactions took place in small neighborhood bars and casinos during the overnight hours. News 4 has also discovered several withdrawals at strip clubs in the metro east using Missouri EBT cards. The state of Illinois doesn't have a way to tell if Link cards are being used at specific ATMs inside strip clubs.  
 
During this same time period, News 4 has been following a federal case involving a Metro East convenience store manager accused of defrauding the food stamp program for more than $1.5 million.

The food stamp program is run by the USDA, but the money is administered by individual states. The Missouri Department of Social Services and the Illinois Department of Human Services have both declined on camera interview requests to explain how they investigate fraud within the program. News 4 has made repeated attempts to get answers about the program from the USDA, but so far their paid spokespeople have not returned phone calls.  
 
The recent stories are catching the attention of Senators from Missouri and Illinois. Senator Roy Blunt (R – Missouri) says businesses like bars that accept these EBT and Link cards should be held accountable and so should cardholders who abuse the system. “I think your access to these programs should be in jeopardy if you didn't use them for you and your children and things you are supposed to use them for, there should be a penalty” said Blunt.
           
As a result of News 4’s investigation, Illinois’ Senior Senator Dick Durbin (D – Illinois) is now formally asking the state Department of Human Services to carefully review the findings of the News 4 investigation and to advise the Senator on abuse.
 
News 4 also met up with Sen. Mark Kirk (R – Illinois) on our trip to Washington DC. Kirk even watched our investigation while our crews where in his office. “As a government official it's not just your job to just hand over information to the news media, it's to fix the problem” said Kirk.
 
News 4 also visited Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D – Missouri) office in DC, she was unavailable due to a scheduling conflict but we will follow up with her office. News 4 will also let you know if Sen. Durbin’s request for an investigation into Illinois Link transactions in Las Vegas yields any results.

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