The state’s upper chamber voted unanimously to penalize people who spend their taxpayer-funded welfare benefits on drinking alcohol, gambling or visiting strip clubs.
The Senate voted 30-0 on new rules that came after an investigation from a free-market think tank that found the electronic debit cards carrying government funds for low-income people were swiped at places like bars, strip clubs and tobacco shops.
The proposal would make it illegal for people collecting welfare benefits to knowingly use the card or draw money off of the card from an ATM at a liquor store, gaming establishment or adult cabaret. Anyone caught would be required to pay the money back to the state. Benefits would be permanently revoked after withdrawing money from the card via an ATM at those locations a third time.
The legislation would also require operators of those venues knowingly accepting EBT cards pay $1,000 fine for the first offense, climbing to $5,000 for the third offense in five years.
The benefits are given under the Temporary Assistance of Needy Families program. The welfare funds are deposited on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, known as EBT cards, that work much like debit cards.
The legislation still needs approval in the House of Representatives. The House version, House Bill 119, awaits a hearing in the House Health Subcommittee.