BAKER, LA (WAFB) - There's a growing concern that some Baton Rouge area retailers are allowing its customers to use food stamps to pay for their clothing. 9News learned it is happening, and it's legal.
The Electronic Benefits Transfer card, or EBT, is nothing new. One might know it as a Louisiana Purchase or food stamp card. The federal funds are supposed to be used to buy food items authorized under the United State Department of Agriculture's SNAP program. It is not something you would likely find advertised at a retail store. When the Rainbow clothing store on Plank Road in Baker, LA put out a sign stating "We now accept EBT cards", people started talking.
"Are you kidding me? Wow! What's edible to buy? It's nothing but clothing," Rashaud Dixon said.
"Don't know the circumstances but it sounds kind of like out of mind but I've never heard of such," another tax payer said.
When 9News walked inside, we found clothes, shoes and accessories but no food. We took their concerns to store manager, Wanda Hebert.
"We started accepting it when the Katrina happened," Hebert said.
Hebert said she is simply following store policy, which to her knowledge participates in a program that gives an extra allowance to some EBT recipients.
"The system will let us know if they have the cash on it or not," Hebert explained.
Spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Family and Children Services, Trey Williams, said Rainbow is not doing anything illegal. He explained there are two programs on the EBT card, one for food benefits, the other for things like clothing, bus fare or gas money. He said it is part of the welfare system that has been in place since the mid-1990s, only now instead of issuing checks, both benefits are deposited on the EBT card.
"The card is coded to make sure so that it cannot be used for food stamps. It can only be used for cash assistance," Williams said.
He said the card also helps the government track purchases to monitor fraud and keep tax payer's money intact.
According to DFCS, approximately 5,000 people in Louisiana are on the cash assistance program.
On average, they get $195 a month on top of their food benefits.
DFCS records show, since December of 2012, eight purchases were made using cash assistance at the Rainbow in Baker.