I was shocked as I read an article in The Los Angeles Times regarding new restrictions preventing the use of California’s welfare benefit EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards in medical marijuana shops, psychic readers and massage parlors, among other businesses the State deems inappropriate. The new rules were not what shocked me, it was the fact that the program had allowed their usage at these locations in the first place. I support these new restrictions and my opinion is the State should further investigate and audit the current program to find and prosecute fraud, while always reviewing eligibility of recipients. The new rules also will prevent the use of the card at other surprising locations like bail bond establishments, bingo halls, cruise ships, gun shops, bars, racetracks, smoking shops and tattoo parlors. Again, the real shock here is the fact that before these new rules, you could use essentially use your welfare benefits to get a tattoo, take a cruise, even buy a gun, putting your tab on the taxpayers of California.
California has gone high tech and as the article points out, since 2000 has been using a system of ATM debit cards to issue welfare and food stamp benefits to eligible recipients. People eligible for welfare and food stamps in California no longer need to wait in line at welfare or food stamp offices or wait for a check in the mail. The cards, which look like any other ATM card, both make it easier and cheaper for the state to disburse benefits. The state simply transfers the correct benefit amount to the recipients account, the money is then immediately accessible to the recipient, either via cash at an ATM machine or simply by paying for food and other purchases using the balance on the card.
The use of a card for welfare benefits also reduces the stigma and embarrassment recipients may feel, the card looks like any other ATM card and is used as such. I live in downtown Los Angeles and many local merchants have signs indicating they accept “EBT” which means they accept the welfare ATM card for payment. They use the same little card swipe machine and PIN code keypad to process the transaction almost like a credit card. The funds are removed from the customer’s welfare benefit balance, and the purchase is complete. If you were standing in line behind a person using their welfare benefits with the card, you would never know, it would appear to be just another person paying with their debit or credit card.
The funds and the benefits are supposed to be used to buy food or access cash to help needy families pay their rent or buy clothes for their children. Nothing else. The money is also supposed to only be withdrawn in California. The Los Angeles Times broke the story a few months ago in a front page article reporting since 2007 more than $69 million in welfare benefits has been withdrawn in casinos alone, all outside the state, which included $12 million withdrawn in Las Vegas alone. The Times reported another $1.5 million had been spent or withdrawn in Florida and more than $16,000 had been accessed on cruise ships, including several that sail primarily from Miami.
I applaud Governor Schwarzenegger’s actions to restrict the usage of the card to further ensure the benefits, paid for by myself and other California taxpayers, are spent appropriately on necessities for truly needy applicants. I support our having a welfare system to protect and support the needy, but the system must be carefully policed to prevent this kind of widespread fraud and abuse.
Jack Dolan State bans welfare cards at pot clubs, massage parlors The Los Angeles Times via latimes.com
Jack Dolan Welfare aid cards valid at casinos The Los Angeles Times via latimes.com