- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services said it doesn’t have the ability to block certain welfare funds from being spent at casinos, liquor stores, tobacco shops and strip clubs - despite a law prohibiting those expenditures.

The law to prohibit Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds from being spent at those businesses was signed in May by Gov. Mary Fallin. But DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said its current setup doesn’t allow it to enforce the restrictions.

DHS uses state-issued debit cards to distribute the funds as well as other types of payments like child support, which don’t have the same restrictions as TANF.

Powell told The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1FJ7rQb ) the agency intends to seek new bids on a debit card vendor contract this spring and will require the new vendor to provide a separate card for TANF funds.

The department has identified businesses where TANF funds aren’t allowed and sent them a notice and a photo of the debit card, Powell said.

“We’re relying on the businesses to honor our request to not use the card for those particular funds,” she said, adding that the agency has been educating clients where they money can be spent.

TANF is meant for children whose parent died or is incapacitated, absent or unemployed. About $20.3 million in TANF assistance was distributed in Oklahoma in fiscal 2013. The average recipient received $1,546.

Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, authored the legislation and said he didn’t expect a delay in implementing the new cards.

“However, we did put penalties in place for those knowingly using or accepting TANF benefits in these restricted establishments,” Standridge said.

Parents who use TANF funds at a prohibited business can have their payments reduced or permanently revoked if violations continue.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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