Audit questions use of some Missouri welfare benefits - KCTV5

Audit questions use of some Missouri welfare benefits

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A new state audit matches what KCTV5 News uncovered in several investigations - the misuse of money meant for needy families.

In this brand new report, state auditor Tom Schweich says the staff at Social Services must do more to prevent and detect fraud of public benefits.

Every month, 40,000 households in Missouri use an EBT card to get temporary cash assistance for their children.

State records revealed transactions at some non-kid-friendly places like casinos, strip clubs and liquor stores.

"It frustrates me," said Tequila Shepherd, a Kansas City mother of three, who has used the benefits in the past to help her children.

The new state audit finds that the Department of Social Services "has not developed policies and procedures regarding the nature, timing, and extent of reviews."

"We identified $722,000 in questionable transactions," Schweich said. "We found problems both on the front end...they didn't have a good way to identify who might be misusing the benefits, and once they did identify people there wasn't a lot of follow up."

Schweich's team examined transactions from fiscal year 2012 and found more than 1,565 cases of questionable use of tax dollars.

Nearly $2,000 was accessed in the United States Virgin Islands over a six-month period.

Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican, said the information Schweich uncovered will be extremely useful to the House as it works to formulate legislative priorities for the upcoming session.

"The facts are simply shocking. Clearly, more must be done to prevent fraud and abuse in the TANF system, and we will make this a priority during the upcoming session," Jones said.

Another big issue uncovered by the audit was poor record keeping. More than 600 transactions had bad addresses, places found to be "obviously incorrect."

"We want to make sure they are actually using it for children, and our audit found significant problems with that," Schweich said.

And if the department had decided to review the records, the audit ruled the data was not in an easy-to-search format.

Social Services says it now has a plan "to perform routine reviews" to make sure tax dollars get in the correct hands.

The department also plans to automate data searches instead of relying on reportedly two workers to manually scan through hundreds of thousands of transactions.

There is also a new law to punish transactions at adult-oriented businesses. Social Services has yet to release any information on those violations.

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