I wrote previously about disturbing numbers from the North Dakota Department of Human Services regarding the use of TANF (welfare) funds in the state. DHS hasn’t been very forthcoming with data, and in my previous post I was only able to tell you about percentages of funds spent on certain categories with no dollar amount and no indication for how much of the state’s TANF funding is distributed through debit cards.
Now, thanks to a request prompted by my post from state Senator Margaret Sitte, we have some additional data. You can see the information in the PDF document below, but here are some highlights:
First, more than 99.5% of TANF funds are distributed through these debit cards. So when we’re talking about these debit card funds, we’re pretty much talking about all TANF benefits in the state.
Second, DHS is projecting to distribute $11.7 million in TANF benefits by the end of 2013. Here’s the category break down I gave you in my previous post, only this time with dollar figures attached:
This categories illustrate some very poor priorities among TANF recipients. Roughly half of the total TANF funds, some $5.6 million, is spent on eating out (both fast food and regular restaurants, movie rentals and ATM withdrawals. If we consider that a significant amount, if not most, of the $2.26 million spent inside gas stations (which is nearly 20% of the total) is probably junk food, you get a grim picture of how these funds are being spent.
Which is to say, on frivolities and luxuries rather than needs.
DHS told Senator Sitte the same thing they told me, which is that transaction data (i.e. the time, date, location debt card transactions take place) isn’t available because of the Federal Privacy Act. Which is strange because, as I’ve noted previously, reporters in other states have accessed that data (and found some disturbing results).
I’m continuing to push for this data. I do think it’s open, and I think North Dakotans deserve the full picture as to how this money is being spent.