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Bill seeks to ban welfare cards from casinos

Efforts are under way in Sacramento to ensure welfare recipients cannot use benefit cards in casinos or to buy alcohol.

April 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Efforts are under way in Sacramento to ensure welfare recipients cannot use their benefit cards to get money from ATMs in casinos, or to purchase alcohol and tobacco. An executive order by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger temporarily ended the practice. Now some lawmakers want a permanent ban.

Welfare-to-Work recipients in the CalWORKs program use California Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to pay for their families' needs. But it has been used in the past to get cash back at ATMs located in casinos and adult entertainment clubs. To this day, some of that money is used to buy cigarettes and liquor.

"Roughly 76 percent of all CalWORKs recipients are children. CalWORKs is here to help make sure children are provided with basic needs, not for adults to purchase alcohol or to gamble at casinos," said state Assm. Henry Perea (D-Fresno).

Perea convinced the state Assembly Committee on Human Services to ban the cards' use for any of those establishments or to pay for those habits.

Opponents testified the cash withdrawals at casinos are less than half of 1 percent of total welfare spending and pointed out welfare is not just about helping recipients get jobs.

"It's also about having self-sufficiency to manage one's finances and make the right decisions, and when we begin to take decisions away from families, we lose that learning experience," said Mike Herald, a spokesman for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The committee also considered cutting the time period families can be on welfare from four years to two years.

Kelli McAdoo from Rancho Cucamonga is using her time on CalWORKs to study nursing. She opposes reducing benefits.

"If anything, there should be an extension because in order for someone to become economically self-sufficient, it takes time," said McAdoo.

In the end, the committee rejected the time reduction, so welfare remains at four years.

In the meantime, another bill in the state senate would ban welfare recipients from spending their benefits on junk food.