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California wants to stop gambling, drinking and smoking with food stamps

April 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
California lawmakers want to stop welfare clients from spending state money on alcohol and tobacco products, or withdrawing money at casinos.

Welfare spending has been a popular target during budget negotiations over the last few years with lawmakers cutting benefits. It's currently an average of $500 a month for nearly 600,000 families and now how recipients spend their money is being targeted.

Welfare-to-Work recipients in the CalWORKs Program use California's Electronic Benefits Card 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 make sure children are provided with basic needs, not for adults to purchase alcohol or to gamble at casinos," said Assm. Henry Perea, D-Fresno.

Perea convinced the Human Services committee to ban the cards use at 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 that pointed out welfare is not just about helping recipients get a job.

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

On Tuesday evening, the committee rejected the time reduction so it remains at four years. Meanwhile, there is another bill in the Senate that would ban welfare recipients from using their benefits to buy junk food.

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