Welfare recipients visit Hawaii?

Aug. 18, 2008

by Roz Kohls

Welfare recipients in Minnesota used state-issued benefit cards to make more than $10 million in purchases in other states during the past year, according to an Aug. 8 report in the Star Tribune.

Most of the purchases were made in nearby states, such as Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota. I have no problem with those purchases. They could have been by people who live near the border of Minnesota, or have family in other states and have a legitimate reason for going there.

The part of the legislative audit of the electronic benefit transfer card system that baffles me is the 126 transactions in Hawaii. Even the 217 transactions in Alaska don’t bother me as much as those made in Hawaii.

I agree with House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, who said “This is a red flag for the taxpayer.”

I would love to go to Hawaii at least once in my life. It has all the things that I love in one place. There are mountains, warm weather, oceans, waterfalls and flowers. I can’t afford it, however. It’s doubtful I ever will, with the cost of airfare and jet fuel the way they are.

I looked up a trip to Hawaii on the Internet. The least expensive trip, which must be taken between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, and includes four nights in a hotel, is $632.

The Department of Human Services said the benefit cards were issued for both food and cash, according to Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune. Individuals were given a specific amount monthly on their card. Food card purchases can only be made at recognized grocery stores. Cash card purchases, however, can be made at any store or be used at an automated teller machine, he said.

I thought people who got benefit cards had no money. How did welfare recipients get to Hawaii in the first place?

Chuck Johnson, the department’s assistant commissioner, said, “I’m a little surprised to see it happening in Hawaii,” he said.

Surprising is putting it mildly.

Either the people who went to Hawaii had plenty of money to begin with, and didn’t need the benefit card, or there is too much money in the cards per month, that someone could have enough to travel to such an expensive place as Hawaii.

Fortunately, the total amount spent was small. That should help officials identify who spent what in Hawaii, and why they were there. Maybe state officials can eliminate some fraud in the system.

State Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said even though the data is for one year only, there should be concern, Kaszuba said.

It’s definitely got me wondering how many welfare recipients are basking on a sunny beach in Hawaii on my dime.