Why Doesn’t North Dakota Track Welfare Funds?


Occasionally we are treated to news stories like this one which detail the use of government welfare funds – programs like TANF or food stamps – being used in inappropriate ways, such as in strip clubs or for alcohol.

I was interested in doing a similar story here in North Dakota. After all, these stories always spark a great deal of public interest, as well they should. People who have the resources to go to strip clubs and liquor stores don’t need to be on public assistance.

So I put in a request for a sample of transactions from which to start analysis. I requested from the Department of Human Services (which oversees the TANF program in North Dakota) a copy of all EFT card transactions for the month of December in the Fargo area. Specifically, I was looking for a list of vendor and vendor addresses so I could see if there were any places where it might be considered inappropriate for public assistance dollars to be spent.

What I found out is that the State of North Dakota apparently doesn’t track these things.

“North Dakota Department of Human Services (DHS) does not have a record of any or all EFT TANF transactions which took place in the City of Fargo for the dates of December 1st, 2012 through December 31, 2012,” DHS Assistant Director of Public Assistance Brenda Peterson told me in an email. “DHS also does not have any record that includes the name of establishments, addresses, time, specific dates, and specific amounts of TANF transactions.”

I asked if there was any state agency which tracks these transactions, and she told me that “There is not any state agency that tracks EFT card transactions at this time.”

That’s troubling, to say the least. Federal spending on human services in North Dakota is set to decrease by 12.1% in the next biennium thanks to the state’s rising levels of prosperity (thanks, in turn, to the oil boom). But the state’s portion of human services spending would increase by nearly 14% per Governor Dalrymple’s executive budget recommendation. Why human services spending should go up when the state is getting more prosperous is perhaps another topic for debate (it seems that, good times and bad, the human services folks always want more), but at the very least shouldn’t we be tracking how some of this public assistance to ensure it’s being spent appropriately?

Update: I just spoke with a local Cass County Social Services official who seemed befuddled that the state didn’t have the records. “Somebody has to have the records,” she told me.


Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Captornado

    Party pooper!

  • sbark

    You want them to have a advertising and recruitment budget on taxpayors expense on one hand………and discourage useage by tracking and disclosure on the other?
    …….that would be counterproductive to job security…..not?
    I cant beleive with the level of computers and EBT cards in that system that that data isnt available with the click of a button, or at minimum the software to trak –if its available in Massachusets, its available here.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be available.

  • whowon

    Would love to know (must be data somewhere) what each state offers compared to our Human Resources Department. Is there any residency requirement before you get your hand out? WHY are so many heading to Bismarck, certainly isn’t oil field work yet every day I see more and more people that appear to be homeless. WHY are they coming here? Read somewhere that some family had moved from another State because we paid $20 a month more. Not sure where to get the info but I too wondered why the Human Resources Department wants more money without accountability? Think we need to get answers.

    • WOOF

      Heard from one of those habitual drunkards ? “moved from another State because we paid $20 a month more”

  • whowon

    Going through the site…Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program
    What are the program rules?

    Before you can receive benefits you must:

    • Comply with Child Support Enforcement Requirements by completing required forms which will be provided to you by your local county social service office

    • Contact the JOBS/Tribal NEW Employment Contractor within 7 days from the date of referral to schedule an appointment to complete Orientation; and attend the
    Orientation appointment

    • Be a resident of North Dakota.

  • whowon

    Households cannot use benefits to buy:

    Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;

    Any nonfood items, such as pet food, soaps, paper products, household supplies, vitamins and medicines;

    Food that will be eaten in the store;

    Hot foods. Don’t see any mention of strippers or gambling. Hmmm, unless they are tracked how would you know? Saw a liquor store that had sign we accept EBT cards. Seems that would be against the law.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      Right, there’s got to be a way to enforce this.

    • Opinionated

      And an ice cream truck selling cigarettes that also took bet cards, nice

  • JW-American

    Might want to email your Senators regarding SENATE BILL NO. 2067

    A BILL for an Act to amend and reenact section 50-06-15 of the North Dakota Century Code,

    relating to making reports confidential on providers and individuals applying for or receiving

    assistance or services under programs administered by the department of human services

    It may be that an amendment for record keeping of where those funds are spent could be attached.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      That appears to only apply to individual information. I’m not looking for info on individuals, I’m looking for data about where the money was spent.

  • Understood

    They like spending the funds for their clients so their own jobs would be provided more security. You know, make sure you empty the coffers before the end of the fiscal year.

    My case in point as an example: A registered nurse I know, here in Bismarck, was advised by the social services office to DECREASE the number of hours she works so that she would get more benefits and higher health coverage for herself and her two children. Yes, they told her to decrease her hours each week from 24hrs to 20hrs and she would be rewarded more bottom-line benefits.

    What did she do? She did just that. Now, a year later she is still working only 20hrs per week so her benefits max out. Still, both hospitals and clinics in town are desperate for RN’s. Will she apply for any of those jobs? Heck no! Why would she? She’s covered for doing very little and staying at home.

  • Jeremiah Glosenger

    There are records of all transactions. They are all electronically recorded at the time of transaction just like your credit card statement; someone is trying to stonewall.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I suspect you’re right.

      I was able to find out today that US Bank operates the cards for the state. I’ve gone back to them with that info, and I’m waiting to hear back.

      • awfulorv

        To bureaucrats this is called the ” running around the circled wagons” , ploy.