Senate approves restrictions on allowable welfare spending

by Carol Thompson

A bill passed earlier this week by the state Senate would prohibit welfare recipients from spending their benefits on alcohol and cigarettes.

The bill, which passed 56-3, also prohibits the spending of benefits on gambling and strip clubs.

The “Public Assistance Integrity Act” would prohibit the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) debit cards to purchase tobacco products, alcoholic beverages and games of chance.

“Welfare benefits are designed to give a helping hand to people in need, to ensure that children and families get proper nutrition, and to help with expenses related to finding a job,” said Senator Patty Ritchie. “People who need help deserve these benefits, but taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for beer, cigarettes and ‘win-for-life’ lottery tickets.”

Passage of the bill fulfills a federal requirement of states to restrict welfare assistance spending on these items by 2014. If the legislature does not act, the state stands to lose $125 million, according to the senate web site.

In February, President Barack Obama signed a law that requires states to restrict how the cash portion of social services is spent, or else they will lose five percent of funding for the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

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