By Benjamin Yount -
SPRINGFIELD - Rep. John Cavaletto has heard all the stories about people using public aid in Illinois to get alcohol and tobacco, to play video poker, and even to make bail. He’s finally had enough.
Cavaletto, a Republican, has introduced a proposal that would define exactly how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families can and cannot be used.
“I understand one person used their TANF card to (get) out of jail,” Cavaletto told Illinois Watchdog. “He was put in jail and within five hours he was out of jail, and he used his TANF card to bail out for $350.”
He wants to limit purchases with cards to the essentials.
“I’m talking about milk and bread, and I’m talking about wholesome foods and vegetables, and baby diapers,” Cavaletto said. “The basic needs for survival.”
TANF is a cash grant, usually delivered by a debit card. Unlike food stamps that have a defined list of acceptable products, TANF cash can — and often is — spent on items other forms of public aid cannot buy.
Illinois’ Department of Human Services, which administers the TANF program, mentions only vague spending limits on its website. DHS states cash assistance is for “basic needs, such as food, clothing, housing, etc.”
In 2013, Illinois had more than 130,000 people collecting TANF, which provides a maximum of $982 a month for a family of four and $479 a month for a single person.
Cavaletto said that number will likely go up again this year.
“If we’re wasting money … and we don’t do anything but add to the problem by enabling people, we’re just going to go further into a hole,” Cavaletto added.
The recently released report The War on Poverty backs-up Cavaletto’s fears.
The report from Congress looks at all aspects of public aid spending, including TANF, and found that TANF has been successful because it’s one of the few programs that has forced reforms on families on welfare.
“By December 2010, only 1.9 million households were receiving cash assistance through the TANF program,” the report states. “Because of welfare reform, there was a marked change in behavior by single mothers.”
Cavaletto said that’s the second half of his plan, to offer people on public aid a path off of welfare.
“We want to put people back to work, earning their own money,” Cavaletto said, “getting their own integrity back and having the things in life that they want.”
But Cavaletto isn’t holding his breath.
Republican lawmakers have introduced several plans to reform public aid spending in Illinois, or at least force some accountability. Those plans have failed in the past, and likely will fail again this year.