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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 www.dss.virginia.gov/benefit/tanf.

To report fraud anonymously, call 514-7393 directly.

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