According to a story in the June 11, 2001 Charleston (WV) Gazette, Wal-Mart stores will no longer accept West Virginia clothing vouchers. The commissioner of the state Bureau for Children and Families told a West Virginia legislative committee. Desite State officials’ efforts to urge Wal-Mart to rejoin the program, Fred Boothe told a Legislative committee on Health and Human Resources Accountability that Wal-Mart has dropped its participation. “To this point, Wal-Mart has refused to cooperate,” he said. Boothe said the his office had received notice from Wal-Mart that the world’s largest retailer would no longer honor the vouchers. “They say they don’t have enough staff,” he said after the meeting. The loss of Wal-Mart, West Virginia’s largest private-sector employer, could have a significant impact on the program, Boothe said. Last year, Wal-Mart accounted for about $3 million out of more than $8 million in clothing purchased with the vouchers. Boothe said that in many rural areas of the state, “Wal-Mart is the only discount store in easy driving distance.” “Maybe we shouldn’t be building so many roads and infrastructure to their places,” state Sen. Bill Sharpe, D-Lewis told the Gazette. West Virginia is one of only two states that provide clothing vouchers for children in low-income families. The $150 vouchers for each child are distributed each July and August and are good through Oct. 31. Clerks at participating stores must fill out forms listing clothing items bought with the vouchers. The stores then send the forms to the bureau for reimbursement. Wal-Mart executives said that was too time-consuming, and they offered to exchange the vouchers for Wal-Mart gift cards, Boothe said. Such an agreement, however, would destroy the integrity of the program, he said, since there would be no way to assure that the funds were spent on children’s clothing. “They could buy a chain saw, or if it’s a Super Wal-Mart, they could buy groceries,” he said. Rita Dobrich, manager of the state clothing voucher program, said she asked if the magnetic stripe on the gift cards could be programmed so that they could be used only for clothing purchases. She was told that wasn’t possible. Boothe also said purchases with the gift card would be subject to the state sales tax, while the vouchers are tax-free.He said Health and Human Resources Secretary Paul Nusbaum has written to Wal-Mart corporate headquarters, asking the company to reconsider. Bureau community services managers in each county also have been asked to contract their local Wal-Mart store managers, Boothe said. He stressed that the decision was made at Wal-Mart’s corporate level, and he is not aware of any store managers in the state who have a problem with the vouchers. So far, no other participating stores have followed Wal-Mart’s lead and refused to accept the vouchers, Boothe said. “Actually, they love it. I’m sure Charleston Department Store and others are very pleased that they’re not going to go there [to Wal-Mart],” he said.
Wal-Mart’s latest Annual Report has two pages devoted to Wal-Mart’s “Good.Works” culture. Although Wal-Mart boasts that it is “committed to strengthening and enhancing the quality of life in the communities where our Associates live and work,” apparently they don’t have enough Associates in West Virginia communities to help low-income families use the state’s clothing voucher benefit. Thanks to Stacy Mitchell of the New Rules Project for passing this item along. For more info on New Rules, go to www.newrules.org.