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WKYT Investigates: State of welfare in Kentucky

KNOX COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - The lines are a dozen cars deep outside some Kentucky banks in the middle of the night. Police in a handful of cities say when those crowds gather on the first of the month, crime rates go up.

WKYT watched as more than two dozen cars lined up at the three banks on Highway 25 in Barbourville at 1 a.m. Each driver swiped at least one Direct Express card into the ATM.

Direct Express is a pre-paid debit card -- the government's recommended way to receive federal benefits if you don't have a bank account. They're benefits the government gives to disabled adults with limited income, or someone unable to work because of a disability.

To qualify, they have to decide that your condition is severe, that it's found under their list of disabling conditions, that you can no longer do the work you did previously, and that you can't do any other type of work.

WKYT's Kirsten Kennedy showed the video to a handful of legislators, and state Rep. Jonathan Shell was the only one willing to talk with WKYT about what he saw on camera.

"Any more whenever you need something, you're not going to your neighbor for help. You're not going to your church for help, and you're not going to yourself to help, you're going to the government for help," explained Rep. Shell.

Rep. Shell is passionate about welfare reform. He wants to pass two proposals in Frankfort - one involving drug-testing welfare recipients, and the other creating a sliding scale for working parents to continue to get benefits until they make enough on their own.

In Kentucky, more than 900,000 people get government assistance, that's about 21 percent of our state. That does not include people on temporary state assistance, like K-TAP or TANF.

"It's particularly galling that it's made so easy to just gain access to cash," noted Tea Party activist David Adams. "You're gonna take good people and with that kind of temptation, open up the door to all kinds of abuse."

In the last three months of writing emails, requesting information, and making phone calls, we finally got in touch with the Treasury.

"We knew the funds were available right away, that was actually one of the advantages of electronic payments, but we had never heard about people actually forming up early in the morning before normal business hours," U.S. Department of the Treasury spokesperson Brad Benson told WKYT. "We would counsel people to use the benefits as they need them. Keep the balance on your card because that way it's safer than carrying cash."

Police and court record keepers in a handful of small towns are telling us they're dealing with a noticeable increase in arrests on first of the month.


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