Welfare rules target booze, tattoos, lottery tickets

Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:16 AM
Last updated 9:21 AM
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BOSTON — Taking aim at what they call an abuse of the taxpayers’ money, a growing number of states are blocking welfare recipients from spending their benefits on booze, cigarettes, lottery tickets, casino gambling, tattoos and strippers.

Lisa Crawford, an intern at JEVS Human Services, works a reception desk, Monday, July 16, 2012, in Philadelphia. States across the country are enacting welfare benefit restrictions that prohibit recipients from using their cash assistance at certain businesses and from buying items, like alcohol and lottery tickets.   AP
AP
Lisa Crawford, an intern at JEVS Human Services, works a reception desk, Monday, July 16, 2012, in Philadelphia. States across the country are enacting welfare benefit restrictions that prohibit recipients from using their cash assistance at certain businesses and from buying items, like alcohol and lottery tickets.

“If you’re not abusing the program, then you should really have no problem with these reforms,” said state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, a Republican pushing for restrictions in Massachusetts.

While the crackdown has strong populist appeal in Democratic and GOP states alike in this era of tight budgets and tea party demands for fiscal discipline, advocates for the poor argue that the restrictions are based on stereotypes about people on welfare, and they say the notion of any widespread abuse is a myth. Most people on public assistance, they contend, are single mothers struggling just to get by.

The movement has been spurred in part by Congress. Under legislation signed by President Barack Obama in February to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, welfare recipients are barred from using their cash assistance in strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores. States must change their own laws to conform by 2014.

From Arizona to Maine, states have been going even further on their own, adopting or considering legislation to block the use of benefits for other items deemed frivolous. Among them: porn, cruises and psychic readings.

In the past 12 years, at least 10 states passed laws restricting welfare purchases, three of them this year, while at least 14 others are proposing similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Around 4.4 million people received about $30 billion in cash assistance in fiscal year 2011 through the federal-state welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. States set their own eligibility requirements. (An estimated 44.7 million people received food stamps, and that program has long barred people from using their benefits to buy anything other than certain foods.)

Welfare recipients are issued their benefits via Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards, which can be used like debit cards to buy things or to withdraw cash from ATMs. Some states have barred the use of the cards to buy certain prohibited products; others have banned cash purchases of such items, too.

But cash transactions are all but impossible to police. To make it more difficult for welfare recipients to withdraw cash and spend it on banned items, states such as California and Washington have reprogrammed ATMs inside certain businesses to automatically reject welfare benefit cards.

Depending on the state, welfare recipients who violate the rules can face jail time, the loss of their benefits and fines ranging from $25 in Washington to $2,000 in Maine. Merchants can be fined or lose their business licenses. Some of the states that have joined the trend say they have no figures yet on violations.

Supporters of the stricter laws have seized on media investigations that have uncovered potential abuses.

California, for example, enacted laws to prohibit ATM withdrawals at liquor stores, strip clubs and gambling establishments following a 2010 investigation by the Los Angeles Times that found that $1.8 million in welfare benefits had been taken out of cash machines at California casinos over an eight-month period.

But Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a policy analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, said the regulations reflect “people’s preconceived notions and stereotypes of low-income people.” She said poor people have hardly any money left over for things like alcohol or tattoos after they pay for necessities.

New York lawmakers have proposed barring spending on alcohol, strip clubs, cruise ships and psychics. “It’s a slap in the face to people who are on public assistance and are trying to get off, when others abuse the system,” said state Sen. Thomas Libous, a Republican.

Ann Valdez of Brooklyn’s Coney Island section said it’s “crazy” for the government to be dictating where people spend their assistance instead of creating living-wage jobs. She said she struggles just to cover toiletries, clothing and other expenses for herself and her 13-year-old son on the $120 she receives every two weeks.

“I don’t know one person who uses their EBT money to buy liquor or anything like that,” Valdez said.

Washington state lawmakers have prohibited purchases of tattoos, body piercings, alcohol and tobacco. Bars, bail bond agencies, gambling establishments and strip clubs are also now required to deactivate the ability of their ATMs to accept benefit cards. Colorado and Indiana have banned alcohol, guns and gambling.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire are calling for tighter restrictions after Jackie Whiton, a Peterborough store clerk, was fired in May for turning away a customer who tried to legally buy cigarettes with a benefits card. “I could not sit back and watch it happen,” she said.

Christopher Borges, a New Hampshire resident, defended his and other welfare recipients’ ability to buy cigarettes in a July 7 editorial submitted to the Concord Monitor newspaper.

“Why do people who are sick or unemployed need to justify their spending habits, simply because they are in receipt of support from their community (transferred via the government in the form of cash)?” he wrote. He did not respond to requests for comment.

In Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering banning card purchases of tattoos, pornography and guns. The proposal would also prohibit spending at nail salons, jewelry stores and casinos. Welfare recipients in the state are already barred from using their cards to buy lottery tickets, tobacco and alcohol. Pennsylvania legislators are calling for sweeping restrictions as well.

Philadelphia resident Lisa Crawford, who receives $375 a month in benefits for herself and her 11-year-old son, said using public assistance at strip clubs and liquor stores is “abusive.” But otherwise, she said, “I think you should be accountable for your living situation and should be able to buy what you want as long as your main bills are taken care of.”

Crawford, who has been going on job interviews, said nail or hair salons shouldn’t be put off limits, in part because job-seekers must look presentable: “Luxuries can also help you in the workforce.”

_____

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Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 07/19/12 - 09:37 am
13
0
Too little, too late, but...........

Why is it that people think they have the right to abuse something that is given to them for the benefit of themselves and their family? It is NOT for frivolous things or activities, it is for a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, and clothes on their backs. These people are selfish, ungrateful and spoiled(some people say "entitled"). I think anyone that abuses welfare, food stamps. SSI, etc., should be dropped and never allowed to receive any monies again..........ever.

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 07/19/12 - 09:43 am
13
0
About time.......

News flash for MS. Crawford, gel nails are not a necessity, and you don't have to have fake nails to get a job, your nails and your hair can be done at home, and if you don't know how to fix your own hair or paint your own nails then shame on you.....just shows the mentality though. I think these new rules are great, it should have happened as soon as the money they get was put on credit/debit cards. Watch what happens now though, the ACLU will try to say it is an infringement on their rights.......that money in my opinon should be used for things that are related to survival, paying bills, buying clothes, etc. Certainly not, cigarettes, booze, strip clubs, hair salons, nail salons, guns or lottery tickets. If you want all of those things then get a frigging job. I also happend to believe that food stamps should be used only for nutritious foods and not fast food or food from convenience stores.

corgimom
34077
Points
corgimom 07/19/12 - 09:46 am
4
7
Stillamazed, while I agree

Stillamazed, while I agree with you about the food, in many places, people are miles from a supermarket and the only place for them to get food is at a convenience store.

Being poor and without any transportation is very difficult for people. It affects every part of their lives.

lifelongresident
1323
Points
lifelongresident 07/19/12 - 09:48 am
0
1
obama...obama...obama...obama
Unpublished

obama...obama...obama...obama...obama...come on all you welfare queens, moochers, leeches, and parasites join in with me....obama..obama...obama "more welfare...more welfare...more welfare...more welfare" the food stamp welfare either needs to be reformed or abolished...it's time all parasites. moochers, cheats, leeches, and welfare queens need to get out and get a job

allhans
24009
Points
allhans 07/19/12 - 09:59 am
9
1
Why wait until 2014? Why not

Why wait until 2014? Why not 2013? Or today, maybe.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 07/19/12 - 10:05 am
1
1
No cash...
Unpublished

These cards should be for goods only...no cash withdrawals should be allowed. Also, ID should be shown to use the card. One more thing...how come the majority of people I see using EBT are overweight? Yet poor people in other countries are emaciated. I know there are great people on public assitance that want to be self sufficient. I applaud those that are, but the slovenly slobs that just want a handout should be limited on what they can purchase.

CobaltGeorge
164652
Points
CobaltGeorge 07/19/12 - 10:05 am
6
1
HoRaaaaaaa America

You are findley waking up and throwing some PC out the window. Now all you have to do is insure what you are doing is "DONE". Period

scoobynews
3896
Points
scoobynews 07/19/12 - 10:11 am
11
0
Nails and hair salons!!!

I am lucky if I get my hair done every 2 months and I do not get my nails done because I consider that a luxury not a neccessity. That shows the ignorance of some of these people who are on assistance.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/19/12 - 10:12 am
7
0
“If you’re not abusing the

“If you’re not abusing the program, then you should really have no problem with these reforms,”

Truer words were never spoken.

Corgi does point out a legit obstacle. I don't think it's enough to just give them a card to buy things with. I'm not going on record or anything but if you are giving them money to spend, facilitate them getting to where they can spend their dollars efficiently.

This isn't rocket science. Emply common sense. Just try it.

PhiloPublius
386
Points
PhiloPublius 07/19/12 - 10:13 am
10
1
The only way to stop the abuse is to stop the program.

One time I saw a person offer to buy milk for another person in the checkout line in trade for the other person to buy a case of beer.

Our tax dollars at work.

onlysane1left
216
Points
onlysane1left 07/19/12 - 10:21 am
4
10
Why is this an article in the

Why is this an article in the paper? Is this some undercovered news? Common sense that these things should be banned and if they are being used for that purpose then they should be taken off assistance, DUH! Lastly, this is just another article to stir up the pot against receive welfare assistance......

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 07/19/12 - 10:27 am
1
1
Wrong!!
Unpublished

It's a plot to stir the pot against welfare ABUSERS! I doubt you will find anyone that posts under this article that is against helping those in need. Big difference in that and those that abuse it or make welfare a job for life instead of temporary assistance.

kiwiinamerica
950
Points
kiwiinamerica 07/19/12 - 10:37 am
1
0
45 million people on Food
Unpublished

45 million people on Food Stamps.

Unsustainable and a ticking time bomb. When the US eventually reaches Grecian levels of insolvency, as it must, due to the level of public debt and the law of exponentials, these people will be left to their own devices and the result will not be pretty.

Think New Orleans, post-Katrina.

CobaltGeorge
164652
Points
CobaltGeorge 07/19/12 - 10:38 am
4
3
wmarkw

until ACLU, Jessie and Al step in!

resident
501
Points
resident 07/19/12 - 10:40 am
13
1
Make it so and ENFORCE IT!

I see too many violating this stuff regularly. I hear a bunch out county officials whining about their caseloads and being overworked. Just put a camera on them, SOLITAIRE on the computer or talking on a cell phone, texting, and other things are not CASEWORK!. Not all are guilty of this but there is a huge percentage that are. I can say as I child my family used this assistance and we got off it once work could be secured. I worked as a paperboy, odd jobs and anything I could to pay for things I wanted not NEEDED. There are senior citizens that can't get food stamps because they do not have children and that is because the system is setup to promote child birt and laziness in most cases. I have see them go into the store and buy King Crab, Steaks I could not afford to buy regularly, Junk Food, Sodas, and basically anything they want to because they can and then complain about being out of money on their EBT before the end of the month or I do not get enough....GET A JOB!! McDonalds hires, Grocery Stores Hire, Farms Hire labor workers, Construction, Roofers, there is work you just have to actually show up to get paid and are expected to Well WORK!!!!!

allhans
24009
Points
allhans 07/19/12 - 10:40 am
6
0
onlysane1left. And well past

onlysane1left. And well past time, without a doubt.
Those who are living for today and only thinking of themselves have to have their chains jerked. They seem to like the chains but they have become entirely too expensive.

mommato2
25
Points
mommato2 07/19/12 - 10:43 am
8
2
They really should find a way to monitor this better...

I was approached at Walmart one night while shopping, and a girl asked how I was paying. I told her by debit, and she asked if she could buy my food items with food stamps, and get cash off my debit card. I told her no, and she kept trying to persuade me. I finally said, "I work in a grocery store, I know what game you're trying to pull, and if I had your name, I'd report you for trying to sell your food stamps." She called me a word, and left me alone. When I went out to my car, she was standing on the sidewalk with a bunch of guys, and said to them, "that's the B that wouldn't do it." I got nervous that I was going to be attacked because I wasn't going along with their drug deal or whatever they had going on, just because my husband and I have to actually work for what we have. I held my hand on my panic button until I got in my car. I cannot stand seeing people receive all these benefits, only to abuse them. Also, I've seen people using the ATM to get cash out of their EBT cards, and then go purchase alcohol and tobacco. If they can afford manicures, beer, cigarettes, hair salons, and other things, then they don't need taxpayers' hard earned money. It's a shame that we have to pay for more than one household-our own, and whoever's receiving "gov't" benefits. I know people who pay a few dollars rent, have Medicaid, welfare, and food stamps, plus they get a free cell phone, and I think, it's no wonder they don't look for jobs, they literally don't have a single bill. It must be nice. I'm sorry Ms. Crawford, but I got my job just fine by not having a manicure. I know how to keep my nails clean, and that should be enough. Does the LV bag count as needing to look professional? I don't think so. When I see a person using their food stamps, then welfare, and then walk out to their Mercedes, it [filtered word] me off. What the gov't should do is find out what bills these people have, and send the companies owed the money, instead of handing out debit cards that can be used to purchase only God-knows-what.

CobaltGeorge
164652
Points
CobaltGeorge 07/19/12 - 10:58 am
1
0
mommato2

You have be gone for over 1 1/2 years. Welcome back.

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 07/19/12 - 11:03 am
7
1
@corgimom

I will give you that but on a daily basis you can see people in those stores buying sodas, candy bars, and such, not even canned goods or milk. Most rural areas that don't have a grocery store do have convenience stores that are stocked with some food items such as milk, cheese and a few canned goods. The fact is,the system is broke, people have been milking it for way to long and it is time a stop be put to it. I for one am sick of going to work everyday for others to sit on their behinds and abuse the system. I don't mind helping the needy but there is a big difference between needy and lazy.

itsanotherday1
45432
Points
itsanotherday1 07/19/12 - 11:46 am
7
0
So, what is your point??

"advocates for the poor argue that the restrictions are based on stereotypes about people on welfare, and they say the notion of any widespread abuse is a myth. Most people on public assistance, they contend, are single mothers struggling just to get by."

Seems to me those playing by the rules have no worries.

They should just work the abusers like they do criminal cases; have a tip line and a reward for information leading to provable fraud. Prosecute the ever-loving stew out of merchants, and permanently kick the recipients out of the system. The fraud savings alone would more than pay for the rewards.

happychimer
18598
Points
happychimer 07/19/12 - 11:54 am
6
1
When I worked in a grocery

When I worked in a grocery store, every month a certain man would buy food with EBT, and then return items. He wanted cash for the returned items, and would pitch a fit when the money was put back on his card instead. He wanted cigarettes and beer.Others would get cash from the cash part of the card and buy beer and cigs. they could buy non food items with the cash part, but they would get the cash so the government would not know they bought alcohol and cigs.

itsanotherday1
45432
Points
itsanotherday1 07/19/12 - 12:01 pm
6
1
Good points made about lack

Good points made about lack of transportation. A smart grocer would have a van that made pickups on a set schedule from a few strategic locations. Some people might choose to get the free ride even if they do have wheels. Bottom line is that the grocer picks up a lot of extra business.

itsanotherday1
45432
Points
itsanotherday1 07/19/12 - 12:05 pm
5
0
Oh, and an..other thing..

Lest anyone want to say I'm just a mean old conservative hating on poor people; I advocate the same for ALL entitlement programs. Taxpayers lose billions every year to fraud with every form of government payout.

happychimer
18598
Points
happychimer 07/19/12 - 01:10 pm
4
0
I don't think any honest

I don't think any honest citizens want fraud, whether they are democrats or republicans.

cheapster505
566
Points
cheapster505 07/19/12 - 01:38 pm
6
1
yep

just go to any casino anywhere and loaded with welfare sitting all day long men/women stand in line for lottery and who spends the most?? we all know so don't sugar coat it( single mothers well they get free>>which save me so we can get granma towatch while I go slumming and have another

DMPerryJr
1698
Points
DMPerryJr 07/19/12 - 03:49 pm
5
1
Election Year Populism

Keep your eye on the ball, folks.

How about the REAL criminals at the Fed, State and Local levels? Those people are the scum of the earth who are really lining their pockets with your money.

KSL
134492
Points
KSL 07/19/12 - 03:49 pm
6
1
Why haven't targeted items

Why haven't targeted items been disallowed always?

KSL
134492
Points
KSL 07/19/12 - 03:54 pm
5
3
DM, just because there are

DM, just because there are thieves in Washington, we shouldn't have to put up with welfare cheats.

yasper21
22
Points
yasper21 07/19/12 - 05:19 pm
4
0
Same old story, same old song and dance

My neighbor sells her food assisstance cards for money and drugs. She's been turned in and she even had the nerve to call the police to get her card back once (the police officer actually got the card back for her), after it had been sold.
I realize it isn't the majority that misuse their assistance, but I also know it's not uncommon. It's quite common.

DMPerryJr
1698
Points
DMPerryJr 07/19/12 - 06:00 pm
3
0
KSL

Didn't say we should. I'm simply calling like I see it - it is simply election year blather for the most part. Won't change a thing. People who play the system will always find ways to circumvent it. I should know...I'm a product of the "system".

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