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STATE WATCHDOGS ROUNDUP: Kansas can't detect welfare fraud at strip joints; Iowa econ development panel rife with conflicts; Missouri recovery projects funded but incomplete

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Photo - A Kansas social welfare department official says state officials have no way of preventing welfare debit card users from using them at strip clubs, liquor stores or amusement parks instead of buying food and clothes for their children. (AP Photo)
A Kansas social welfare department official says state officials have no way of preventing welfare debit card users from using them at strip clubs, liquor stores or amusement parks instead of buying food and clothes for their children. (AP Photo)
News,Watchdog Blog

A Kansas welfare agency spokesman has admitted her agency's computer system cannot detect illegal use of tax-paid welfare debit cards when they are used at strip joints, liquor stores or amusement parks like Disneyland.

"You can take your Vision card into a strip joint or Disney Land or Graceland or wherever and use that to get cash," Angela de Rocha Kansas Watchdog.org reporter Travis Perry. "There's nothing we can do about that; we can't control that."

De Rocha is spokesman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families (KDCF), which oversees the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in that state. Recipients are given Vision debit cards in the program that cost an estimated $100 million last year.

De Rocha's confession came in the course of responding to Perry's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for transaction data on the Vision debit cards. After initially denying Perry's request because the data was unavailable, De Rocha said the data was available for $406, payable to a a third-party vendor used by state government.

Go here for Perry's full report. He can be reached at travis@kansaswatchdog.org.

Iowa economic development panel full of conflicts of interest:

An economic development group proposed by Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has spent millions of dollars on existing companies within the state, many of which are linked in some way to officials serving on the panel, according to an investigation by the Iowa Watchdog.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority was created by Brantstad in 2011 and he appointed all of its current members, with confirmation by the state senate.

"The board selected dozens of companies in the past year to receive a combined $189 million in taxpayer money and tax breaks, with the goal of luring more busines to Iowa and growing its economy. An Iowa Watchdog review of state campaign donor lists, legislation and records from the authority showed a majority of the money went to fund projects at existing businesses, rather than to land out-of-state or new companies," said Iowa Watchdog's Sheena Dooley.

Dooley also found that multiple members of the panel were campaign contributors to Branstad prior to 2011.

"Whenever there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest we abstain," Theodore Crosbie, an authority board member and vice president of global plant breeding at Monsanto, told Dooley. "We take the subject seriously. All members have been diligent about this matter."

Among the problems Dooley found were six companies - John Deere, Aviva USA, Monsanto, Cargill, Brownells Inc. and Interstate Companies - "received at least $39.6 million in tax incentives and state grants and loans, despite leaders from the respective companies serving on the authority's board. In exchange, the companies promised to create 983 jobs."

The full Iowa Watchdog report can be found here.

Millions of Recovery Act dollars awarded but not used in Missouri:

A review by Missouri Watchdog reporter Johnny Kampis of projects in the Show-Me-State that were approved for hundreds of millions of dollars under President Obama's 2009 economic stimulus program found many that got the money but were never actually started.

"An examination of the Missouri list shows that of the 82 projects not started, 14 received grants, contracts or loans of more than $1 million. The awards for 10 of those seven-figure plans were made back in 2009, but according to the recovery board reports they haven’t even started," Kampis said in a story posted today on the Missouri Watchdog web site.

"At first glance, those shovel-ready projects seem to be missing their shovels, but clerical errors would seem to boost those numbers, too," Kampis reported. "In some cases the work may be nearly finished, but perhaps a mischecked box on a reporting form tells a different story.

As an example, two grants worth a total of $10 million went to a county water commission to construct a new water treatment plant and associated facilities. Federal records show the project never started in one place, yet elsewhere describe some of its interim accomplishments, Kampis reported.

Kampis said Kyra Mills, chairwoman of that water commission, was surprised to learn of the project’s status listing when contacted by Missouri Watchdog on Monday. She said the job of filing quarterly status reports has been farmed out to another agency.

“I can assure you the project is almost complete,” she told Kampis. “I guess when we started using those funds no one went in there and changed the status of the project.”

The Kampis story can be read in ful at Missouri Watchdog.org.

 

 

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