Archived Story

New rules for public assistance

Published 10:12pm Friday, June 28, 2013

New state regulations that take effect Monday will prevent public assistance recipients from spending the money on gambling, alcohol, tobacco, pornography or adult entertainment.

The legislation was approved during the Virginia General Assembly’s regular session. It applies to the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families electronic benefit cards.

“We’re trying to make sure the funds are being utilized in the proper manner,” Delegate Chris Jones said Friday. “It was a warranted piece of legislation to make sure the dollars are being spent appropriately.”

The new regulations prevent the purchase of lottery tickets, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or sexually explicit materials. It also cannot be used in ABC stores, tattoo or body-piercing businesses, or in establishments that provide adult-oriented entertainment in which performers appear at least partially nude, or in places in which wagering or gaming take place, such as bingo halls or off-track betting.

TANF benefits are available to eligible families with children either under the age of 18 or still finishing high school and able to graduate before age 19. Children over the age of 5 must be attending school regularly. Parents able to work must do so at least 30 hours per week or participate in an alternative program that teaches job search skills and career skills for 35 hours per week.

There is a lifetime limit of 60 months receiving TANF.

The benefits are paid with what is essentially a debit card, said Suffolk Social Services Director Azeez Felder. The regulations also outlaw withdrawing cash to use for the prohibited purposes, but that will be harder to track, Felder said.

“It’s up to the public to keep an eye open,” he said. “We do have a fraud unit, people are prosecuted and they do have to pay money back.”

Felder said it is fairly common for folks to report people they know are abusing the assistance program.

“They say, ‘That’s our tax dollars,’ and they don’t want to see them being used frivolously,” Felder said. “You want those funds to go towards the needs of the household and not for entertainment.”

For more information, Suffolk residents should call the Social Services department at 514-7450 or visit

To report fraud anonymously, call 514-7393 directly.

  • TJP

    While I agree with most of the comments, let’s not forget that there are also millions of people receiving EBT cards who were once able to pull their own with full time jobs. For whatever reason, they are no longer able to do that. Believe it or not, people do fall on hard times! Trust me, there are as many people who are embarrassed that their circumstances have warranted that they’ve had to turn to the “system” as there are people abusing the system. I think we need to educate these people who are making the high end food purchases and the “quickie meals”. They need to know about nutritional values and how to plan meals, etc. One comment stated that they probably don’t budget. My response is. they probably don’t know how to budget. As a well paid tax payer, I have trouble sticking to a budget. So I can’t imagine the task it would be for them. Let’s stop criticizing and start making positive suggestions about fixing the system!

    Suggest Removal

  • Lovebug

    This law has always been in place. Whats new here? The people getting assistance have found ways around the system to fund their entertainment/high end food that those who work hard everyday can’t buy. Its time to put time limits on how long you can get this assistance. Its a broken system that no one seems to want to fix. our Gov needs to stop spending so much time on how they will eventually do away with social security and start a complete overhaul of the Welfare system! They need to find money right? Theres alot there to save if they would only take the time to fix what has been so broken for way to long.

    Suggest Removal

  • mab1960

    Well tomorrow is the first of the month for welfare/foodstamps. In our household it is the day that I get my disability retirement. Once we have all of our bills paid (mortgage, utilities, ect…) we have enough to cover our grocery needs for the month. We have become thrifty shoppers, using coupons and looking for those monthly specials. It has been over 6 months since I’ve had a decent steak…and I love steak, if we are lucky we can catch a good deal on ground beef. I know in the next few days I will stand behind Ms. Ratchet and her 5 children, her shopping cart will be loaded with high-end items like shrimp, steak and other seafood…and she will pay for it with her EBT card. It is as inevitable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West.

    You can try calling the fraud line…but nothing ever changes. I believe the complaints are dropped in the round file and forgotten…just been my past observations. Maybe if more people would report fraud it would be taken seriously by the government agencies.

    These are just my disgruntled thoughts for the day…I should be ashamed of myself since this is the “Lords” day and I should have a more charitable attitude.



    Suggest Removal

  • jhuxster

    Don’t you realize to require a poor person to have a picture ID to use one of these cares would place an undo burden on them and make it difficult for them? At least that’s what I’m told when I argue we ought to require positive, picture ID to vote. Here’s a radical idea–let’s make every purchase one in which the store not only has to require a photo ID they have to input the ID number into the system–they do it with checks they can do it with these cards.

    Suggest Removal

    • KNRMCO

      gOOD IDEA. Let’s take it a step further. Have them run their card BEFORE their purchase to verify that they are in system & then scan their purchase..any item not on the acceptable items allowed for purchasee are denied. Also, only alow them purchases in stores that can scan items..

      Suggest Removal

  • Savannah

    These new rules should have been in place long ago.

    I now understand how the broke folks on welfare (9 to one house) are paying for thier daily case of beer, and the never ending fast food purchases.

    So while we budget and shop with coupons, these folks aren’t even concerned, and likely don’t know what a “budget” is.

    Suggest Removal

  • MrJiggyFly

    I thought these rules were already in place. Would have made sense to me when the scam . . . whoops I mean program, was hatched.

    Those “debit” cards should have a picture on them. And merchants who are caught not checking the debit card with another picture id should be charged and prosecuted. Use sting operations like the ones used to catch merchants selling alcohol to the under-aged.

    On of the more popular scams with the EBT cards is that a card with a remaining balance of say $200 is being sold to someone else for $100. Cash only obviously. Rarely do cashiers check at the grocery store.

    Suggest Removal

Editor's Picks

New school, new principal

For anyone who didn’t know, a raft of clues at Pioneer Elementary reveal it only very recently opened for business. Read more