in Houston, Texas
Food stamp beneficiaries using Lone Star cards in Hawaii and other vacation hotspots; state investigating: Featured video
Friday, Apr 29, 2011, 09:33AM CST
By Trent Seibert
lonestarcard

 

An examination of Lone Star Card spending by KHOU 11’s Christine Haas -- spending analyzed by Texas Watchdog -- has triggered a state investigation to uncover possible abuses.

Texans participating in the food stamp program use what amounts to a debit card issued by the state. What Haas found was Lone Star card spending not just in Texas, but all over the United States, including vacation hotspots such as Florida and Hawaii.

Indeed, there was more than $140,000 in Lone Star Card spending in December alone in California; in Alaska that same month, $40,000. (We’ll post the records we looked at later today.)

The biggest problem for us at Texas Watchdog is that the state and federal public records laws are written in such a way that it’s impossible to tell if this spending is legitimate or if there is widespread abuse. Officials keep hidden where specific spending is taking place or where Lone Star Cards are being used to take out cash. 

That means taxpayers don’t know if the cards are being used to buy food and diapers -- or being used at a casino or strip club.

Sound improbable? It’s not. Last year, KING5-TV in Seattle found millions of dollars in welfare benefits being withdrawn at casinos via Washington state’s version of the Lone Star Card. Those welfare benefits were also being cashed in at strip clubs.
 
It's the unmonitored, out-of-state spending that grabbed Texas' officials attention, though.

From KHOU-11:
Stephanie Goodman, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that monitors food stamps and welfare benefits in Texas, agreed.  

"It raised the same questions with us, especially since we found spending in Hawaii, which was an odd one," Goodman said.

She said it's legal for food stamp beneficiaries to use their benefits out of state. The goal is to allow people to travel in emergencies and afford food. But, Goodman said her department is investigating why people are spending tens of thousands of dollars every month in vacation spots like Hawaii, California, New York and Florida.
Check out the KHOU-11 story here:

 
***
Contact Trent Seibert at 832-316-4994 at trent@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @trentseibert.

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Image of a Lone Star Card via the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
Comments
Keith Dossett
Friday, 04/29/2011 - 01:17PM

Excellent job! I see you were able to contact someone at the Food Stamp office. If I get someone's ear at the office, I would tell them I know a way they could cut their bill by 35%.

Only allow Lone star cards to purchase the store brand item if a one is available. My medical insurance card that I pay for makes me get generic if available, why not food stamp recipients? HEB and Kroger could easily make their scanners identify items. Here are a couple of examples.

Ms Baird bread. 2.15 a loaf. HEB bread .99.

Green Giant Corn 1.25 a can. HEB .58.

Why should tax payers buy name brand when a generic equivalent is available? I think the media should ask them why they can't do this?

Thanks for your work!

Jim Bell
Monday, 05/02/2011 - 10:36AM

It's worth remembering that the Lone Star Debit Card will pay for groceries up to the amount of the card holder's allotted monthly benefit. When the benefit is used up, the card will be refused by the store's card Point of Purchase scanner, and it won't be replenished until the following month.

I suspect that, somehow, the people who're using the Lone Star Cards in other states are getting their hands on a fistful of cards, illegally of course.

Kristin Amador
Thursday, 05/05/2011 - 03:41PM

I know people that have recieved six thousand dollars in food stamps (by accident) and sold all of them. I reported a friend of mine and they only thing they did was take her food stamps away for a month. I have when 'm at the store and the girl in from of me has six kids, doesnt speak english, coach handbag and then i see this person driving a new model car.

Susan cochran
Thursday, 08/11/2011 - 01:22PM

But as a needy family u cant easily get help i have always been an honest person now with no income i cant get help but those who dont need and know how to work the system have no problem getting it

T
Monday, 08/22/2011 - 07:02PM

I call these vacation stamps. I work in an office where many of the less educated lower paid people are in clerical support positions. I have heard a few conversations about not mentioning raises to caseworkers so that they can maintain benefits. I have also noticed many of these people take more frequent vacations than myself (I make about twice as much as a clerical employee). I have felt I haven't been able to afford a vacation in 4 years! I'd love to have some vacation stamps. With no food bill, I could afford to go to the Bahamas!

Shane Luckett
Monday, 10/17/2011 - 10:54AM

I was wondering if there was a certain time of the month that the Lone Star Cards were replenished each month. Is it the same time for everyone? There are times when I go grocery shopping and it seems overly crowded. I had thoughts that this might be a reason and would like to avoid shopping at this time if possible.

andrea bolles
Monday, 12/05/2011 - 01:37PM

where I am located at now is south carolina and they did it the smart way they have a food stamp card,and a welfare card they are both seperate cards.because people complain about they don't know what the right balance is for food stamps and then welfare benifits I am about to move to texas and thats the way I would do it if I was the state it's alot easlier thanks andrea

dontknow
Thursday, 06/28/2012 - 02:49PM

Why is there not a food stamp store or approved list of food like WIC? it makes me upset that i have to work my butt off and cant afford name brand foods but the ones on food stamps or Lone Star Card can be given money to eat better than the working group?

Keely Burtscher
Tuesday, 07/10/2012 - 12:04PM

I have no problem with the Lone Star card helping to feed those who are in difficult financial situations. What I totally object to is the card being used to buy sodas, candy, chips, ding dongs, and other junk food. As a convenience store clerk, I see this type of abuse daily and I'm tired of MY tax dollars paying for it! Those cards should be geared to take only certain foods like necessities and reject all junk food like it does with alcohol and cigarettes.

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