Proposed Law Forbids Welfare Recipients to Use Benefits Towards Alcohol, Tobacco
Thousands of Alabamians rely on welfare, but under federal law, they can't use benefits at strip clubs, casinos or liquor stores. Now, some state lawmakers hope to take those restrictions even further.
More than 20,000 Alabama families qualify for Temporary Assistance of Needy Families, or what many know as welfare.
Each family gets around $190 a month, and the money is placed on their Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which is similar to a debit card.
"It's for if they're going to work and need to put gas in their car, or for diapers for their child. If they are on a food system program, that doesn't cover things like gasoline or diapers," says Barry Spear with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
Spear says Congress passed a law last year that forbids welfare benefits to be used at strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.
"We don't have a penalty at this time," says Spear.
State lawmakers want to change that, and take the law one step further making it illegal to use welfare benefits on tattoos or psychic readings, or to buy alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.
If caught, violators would have to reimburse the state for their purchases, and could be kicked out of the program.
"I can't go to the casinos, because I don't got the money for nothing," says Steve Mooney who is a welfare recipient. "I buy tobacco with it. Cigarettes. That's my habit."
"That's very frustrating to see what we pay in is used on alcohol and tobacco. That's unnecessary," says Montgomery resident Ryan Ziegenfelder.
Spear says studies show that very few welfare recipients abuse the program, and Mooney agrees.
"The little they do give us, it doesn't pay anything. As it is, it barely pays your gas, water and light bill," he says.
Spear says D.H.R. is indifferent to the proposed legislation. He says it will be hard to enforce, but that D.H.R. can tell is someone is abusing the program.
This bill, which is sponsored by Republican Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur, passed a house committee this week.
The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board does not allow welfare recipients to use their benefits at their stores.