Lawmaker questions use of welfare outside Minnesota

Marty Seifert
State. Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The top-ranking Republican in the Minnesota House is asking the state's Legislative Auditor to look into out-of-state purchases made by Minnesota welfare recipients.

Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, says more than 310,000 purchases were made outside of Minnesota, using debit cards issued to welfare recipients who live in Minnesota.

Those purchases totaled more than $10 million, which is about 2 percent of total spending using the cards.

Out-of-state welfare spending; Click for more
This map, prepared by Republican Rep. Marty Seifert's office, shows the amount of money spent in each state by Minnesota welfare recipients. Such spending is legal.
Data compiled by Rep. Marty Seifert

It's not illegal to use those cards outside of Minnesota, and Seifert says he can understand some out-of-state purchases, especially in border states. But he'd like to know why $3,000 was spent in Hawaii.

"Are we having Minnesota cards mailed to other states? Are people traveling there? Are they selling them? Are they bartering them? What's going on?" Seifert said. "And $10 million is not a small amount of money in terms of the state budget, so I think it's worth looking into, and having hearings and finding a way to bring more accountability to these cards."

Assistant Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson says the department already uses the data to look for fraud.

"Someone in Stillwater who shops in Hudson - that's a perfectly reasonable situation," he said, in an interview. "But someone who, several months in a row, is doing all transactions in Pennsylvania would be a situation that might warrant investigation."

Johnson also says there are plenty of family matters that require welfare recipients to travel out-of-state, but he also says he welcomes any look that might further decrease fraud.

Legislative Auditor James Nobles said he will consider whether the allegation requires a special investigation, or can be addressed during his office's annual audit at the Department of Human Services.