North Carolina Doesn't Track Where Work First Money Is Spent

4:32 PM, Jan 16, 2014   |    comments
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- When you hand over your money to the government, you want it to be used wisely. And you expect auditors to keep track of how the money is spent. 2 Wants To Know found North Carolina has no way to know were some of your tax money goes. And it's not by accident. It's on purpose! The state does not track certain funds they give to people in the Work First program, or welfare program.

Across the country, our Gannett news partners broke stories exposing people buying alcohol, tobacco, and adult entertainment with welfare. Here in North Carolina it's illegal to buy those items with our version of welfare called Work First. But North Carolina doesn't track the funds?

The system gives a check to low income parents. On average someone with one child gets about $200 per month. But once cashed the state can't follow up to see to where they spent the money. Instead North Carolina trusts people will use your tax money wisely on things they're supposed to, like rent, gas, and clothes.

"We just don't really have a lot of fraud that goes on," Kim Collie of Winston-Salem's Work First program said.

But they don't have hard numbers to back that up. Only feelings. Collie says the state could easily track the benefits by putting them on a debit card instead. They already use debit cards with food stamps because heavy federal funding requires it.

Think switching the Work First payment system to a debit card would be too much of a headache? North Carolina is actually making changes already. They're moving from the paper check system to direct deposit. But the state still won't be able to track the spending. So why direct deposit? Program leaders say it builds responsibility.

"It gives them a sense of being more stable," Collie said.

State Representative Marcus Brandon says he doubts there's much fraud in North Carolina's Work First Program.

"I would love to be able to see anybody that's wasting tax payer dollars," Brandon said.

But he says with tight budgets, it'd be nice to have a tracking system to be sure.

"It's very important that we are very efficient in the way that we are using our tax dollars to reach the most people that we can reach and those who need it the most," he said.

More than 39,000 people are on Work First across the state. Case workers make a point to tell them it's illegal to buy alcohol, tobacco or adult entertainment with the money they receive. But again, there's no way to track if those people are following the law.

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