10News Follow Up: EBT transactions

11:42 PM, Oct 1, 2012   |    comments
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Many recipients of temporary assistance, and the organizations that help them apply, want taxpayers to know the money is used responsibly.

That response comes after a 10News investigation that aired last week, which raised questions about oversight in the "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families," or "TANF" program. In Tennessee, that program is called "Families First."

Benefits are loaded onto an EBT card, with a set amount of funds each month. Those cards can be swiped or used to withdraw cash. The investigation found some transactions were likely withdrawn at Knoxville ATMs inside of bars, a strip club, and a tobacco store.

However, some of the organizations that help clients apply for those benefits say they serve many families who use them responsibly.

Eric Harris was laid off from his job as an electrical worker, and is currently working part-time until he can find more work. With two of his three children living with him, he relies on "Families First" benefits to make ends meet.

"It's helped us tremendously," he said. "Without that little bit of help, some months it'd really be tight for us. I mean, it always is tight. But we tend to make it."

Harris is also enrolled in a program through Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, called "Elizabeth's Home." The two-year program transitions homeless people into self sufficiency. Managers there tightly monitor Harris' benefits and track his spending.

"We have very strict rules, policies," said manager Angela Petty. "They have to do their weekly expense forms... what they're spending their money on."

In Tennessee, recipients get an average of $165 per month. The Department of Human Services records show it handed out more than $2.6 million in the city of Knoxville from January to July 2012.

Petty explains, many programs help keep benefit recipients accountable when using those taxpayer dollars.

"We make sure their money's being spent well, and not misused. With our program, it's very crucial that we know what our money's being spent on," she said.

Harris says he hopes the negative stigma surrounding EBT users will change.

"There are families that use it wisely, and there are more families that need help, but aren't getting help because of people that are abusing the system."

He looks forward to a future where his family doesn't need the assistance.

"Independence," he lists, as a future goal. "Being able to do stuff on our own. If I want to take my kids somewhere, we can go out to eat. We're not scrimping and trying to stretch every dollar out."

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