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Louisiana bans use of welfare benefits on tattoos, nail salons, jewelry stores in new rules

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — 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.

The Department of Children and Family Services announced the emergency regulations late Thursday. They cover the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program — commonly known as welfare benefits — and the Kinship Care Subsidy Program.

Both programs pay cash assistance to low-income families for items like food, clothing and housing.

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.

About 3,500 households in Louisiana receive welfare benefits, and about 2,400 households get kinship care subsidies, according to the department. Average payments are $192 per month for welfare and $419 a month for kinship care.

The emergency regulations come a week after WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge reported that an Ascension Parish lingerie store posted a sign noting that it accepted the welfare benefits card along with most credit cards.

Also barred in the latest restrictions from taking welfare debit cards are video arcades, bail bond companies, cruise ships, psychics, adult-entertainment businesses, nightclubs, bars and any businesses where minors are not allowed.

Violators of the new regulations will stop receiving welfare benefits for a year for a first offense, two years for a second offense and permanently for a third offense, according to the social services department.

The department also said it is seeking to enact the restrictions in law and allow the state to fine retailers who don't follow the guidelines. Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, will sponsor the bill for consideration in the current legislative session.

"I hope that we can meet the spirit of intent of the program while also ensuring that state and federal tax dollars are being used appropriately," Broadwater said in a statement.

Last year, the social services agency enacted new regulations that banned the spending of welfare money on cigarettes, alcohol and lottery tickets. Those regulations also included prohibitions on the use of a welfare electronic benefit card at liquor stores, gambling sites and strip clubs, as required under a recently-passed federal law.

Tracking violations may be difficult, however, because the welfare money can be taken off the electronic benefit card as cash through an ATM. Social services officials said they rely on businesses and the public to report suspected violations.

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