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Palm Beach County finds some 'ineligible types of expenditures' on debit cards for food assistance

County will evaluate program once it ends
CARES Act debit food card example provided by Palm Beach County
Posted at 2:27 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 14:32:12-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County has found some "ineligible types of expenditures" stemming from $14 million in food assistance distributed to those in need on pre-paid debit cards, Contact 5 has learned.

It's unclear the total dollar amount of ineligible expenditures.

"We see that, overwhelmingly, the cards were spent on food purchases and that it was an overwhelming success," James Green, director of the Community Services Department for Palm Beach County, told Contact 5. "We heard a lot of great stories from our neighbors about how these cards really are almost like a lifesaver to them."

Contact 5 requested an accounting of exactly how the $14 million was spent. In an email, a county spokeswoman said she was unable to provide it because it's held at a "contracted financial institution" and "not on the county's server."

RELATED: More than $1 million in food-assistance debit card funds remains unspent in Palm Beach County | Deadline looming for Palm Beach County residents to activate food-assistance debit cards

no financial paper trail for pre-paid food assistance debit cards in Palm Beach County

Green said staff has looked at some of the expenditures.

"We do have staff members that periodically go in and review the records," Green said in an interview.

County rules say recipients can only use the pre-paid debit to purchase food.

Contact 5 spoke with one Navy veteran, who asked not to be identified, who said the pre-paid debit cards helped put food on the table after he lost his job last July as a trucker.

"It allowed me to eat without stressing about that part of the, you know, life itself," he told Contact 5, adding that he was able "to buy food for a couple of months. In total, I got -- I believe I got -- $900."

More than 13,000 qualified residents in Palm Beach County got the pre-paid debit cards.

Green told Contact 5 his office would provide a more comprehensive evaluation of the program once it sunsets in the next few months.

Michael Buczyner interviews James Green, director of Community Services Department for Palm Beach County
Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner speaks with James Green, the director of the Community Services Department for Palm Beach County.

"We've seen some ineligible types of expenditures, not to get into, you know, specific details, and we've reached out to individuals and, you know, question and kind of work with them to determine what those expenditures were," Green said.

The veteran Contact 5 interviewed is grateful the county stepped in to assist him when he needed it most.

"I greatly appreciate the fact that they presented these programs to help us during these times of need," he said.

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