Some real common sense regulations: La. bans using welfare benefits for lingerie

Welfare benefits have long been debated. In spite of political spin to the contrary, it’s not been a matter of whether they should exist at all, but rather for what purposes they should be allowed to apply and to whom. Even fiscal conservatives like myself understand that there are genuinely needy folks out there who really, honestly, are in a situation where they need help. And like most of my fellow fiscal hawks, I have no issue whatsoever with the decision we’ve collectively made to gather together and offer that assistance.

There are, however, a legion of examples of misuse of those benefits and we’ve all heard them. People who are asking for taxpayer assistance because they cannot pay for the basics of living – food, shelter, and necessary clothing – should not be using the money they’re given to buy items and services that are either luxuries or not required necessities of life. Opinions may vary but I definitely put cigarettes and alcohol in the category of things taxpayers should not be paying for. When we say food, we mean the sustenance required to not be malnourished, which means buying eggs and milk, not caviar. When we say shelter we mean rent or a mortgage on a place of primary residence, not a vacation home. When we say clothing, we mean that clothing required to protect oneself from the elements, to stay warm, and be minimally presentable so as to be able to go about life and, hopefully, improve one’s work station in life. The end goal, remember, is to actually get off of welfare, not make a living at it.

The latest, and most sensational, example came last week when a woman in Louisiana noticed a lingerie shop near her office that had a sign up in the window advising customers that they accepted welfare benefits cards for purchases at their store. The news coverage (see the link for the whole story) makes note of something rather critical: the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card in question is a federal program, not a state one. While I have a feeling the Louisiana officials quoted in the story made a point of saying that out of defensiveness, I do concede that the state can’t do anything about that. I also concede that the retailer at the lingerie shop also did nothing illegal, here. However, I am glad to also note that the incident prompted Louisiana officials to take a strong look at their own programs and tighten up their regulations.

Louisiana welfare recipients will be prohibited from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under new limits enacted by state social services officials.

DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier said the agency decided to ban the use of electronic benefit cards, which work as debit cards, at stores that don’t sell items that are considered basic needs for families.

“This rule will not affect families who currently use the program as intended, which is to provide food, shelter and clothing for families,” Sonnier said in a statement.

Now this is common sense regulation. Under no circumstances are things like tattoos, manicures, jewelry or lingerie necessities of living and people who are asking for assistance in paying for their basic needs don’t need to be spending money – particularly taxpayer funds – on items that fall into those categories. Ethically, they shouldn’t be spending any of their own money on them, either. If they can afford to have those things then they can afford to be paying for their own basic needs. I am all for assisting our fellow citizens who find themselves in need, for whatever reason. But that responsibility is a two-way street and those receiving that assistance should be making sure not to abuse the spirit of charity that ultimately drives such programs.