ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican legislators think they have a way to keep Minnesotans on welfare from spending their benefits on booze, smokes and lottery tickets: They’d keep them from taking more than $20 in benefits in cash per month.

Legislation authored by Sen. Doug Magnus of Slayton and Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown would prevent people with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards from using the cards to withdraw their entitlements from ATMs in cash. Instead, they would be issued a separate card that limited them to withdrawals of no more than $20 cash per month.

The bill would cover families relying on the Minnesota Family Investment Program and childless adults on General Assistance who are generally disabled or otherwise unable to work.

Magnus said he was moved to write the bill by retailers who said they see welfare cardholders withdraw cash and use it to purchase liquor, cigarettes, lottery tickets or even tattoos. He also cited stories by KSTP-TV on welfare waste.

Jessica Webster, an attorney for the Legal Services Advocacy Project, a Minneapolis organization that lobbies the Legislature on behalf of the poor, said the legislation “comes out of a stereotype that there’s broad waste and abuse in the system.” There isn’t, she said.

People on MFIP and General Assistance use cash for a number of things, including rent, child care, public transportation and laundry, and the bill could hurt their ability to care for their families, said Erin Sullivan Sutton, an assistant commissioner in the state Department of Human Services.

“I think there’s a misunderstanding about what these benefits are used for,” Sutton said.

DHS can work to prevent misuse of cards, Sutton said. They can’t track each item purchased on the cards, but they can track where they are used in ATMs and work with retailers to ensure that certain ATMs — in liquor stores or casinos, for example — don’t accept benefit cards. Benefits aren’t supposed to be spent on alcohol or gambling.

Magnus, who said the legislation is a work in progress, pointed out a major loophole in what he hoped to accomplish: People could still choose to take their benefits in the form of a check, which could be turned into cash without any restrictions.

Similar welfare reform proposals have been defeated in years past, but this may stand a better chance of passing the Legislature given the new Republican majorities in both chambers. If it makes it that far, the final decision would rest with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. A spokesman said Dayton won’t comment on proposals until they pass at least one chamber.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (25)
  1. Willow says:

    As long as you give people cash, they are going to spend it on things they shouldn’t. The only way to prevent that is by not giving people cash at all.

    What MInnesota really needs is job creation, job training for the poor, and better public transportation. Not everyone has a car, and not everyone has the skills to get an office job downtown. We also need a system to go from suburb to suburb. If one lives in Plymouth and works in Bloomington, there are few options available other than having a car, or a friend with a car. Minnesota needs to fix that.

    1. anonymous says:

      Receipient of the MFIP money, are assigned job counselors, who have to comply with their employment plans in order to keep receiving the money. In most cases, these job counselors are able to get the clients bus cards for transportation. If the client is working with an employment specialist, the specialist’s job is to make sure a client is able to get to an interview. In the case of a medical appointment, if the client is on a PMAP (pre paid medical plan), I know most of the plans offer ways of getting to the appointment.

      To me, the only way to solve part of the problem of misuse of the money is to have the reciepients apply for the money to be sent directly to a biller. Or made out to the biller. I’m not sure if they already do that. I would suggest making there to be consquences of misuse of the cards. Like cancellation of benefits or sanctions.

      1. anonymous says:

        The cards are not foolproof either… if the state imposes a limit to cash, the receipient will still find ways to get cash, such as trading cash for an ebt purchase with someone else. If they’re desperate enough, like most with chemical addictions, they will find a way.

  2. Gomer'sPile in MN says:

    You right – they’ll find a way regardless. Like flipping the card to someone who buys what it is to be used for and cash in return for it

    I find it hard to fathom that these fricken ignorant, and I mean ignorant, people in the legislature have nothing better to do than this kind of stuff. As they like to say – we already have a law that covers >insert< and we don't need a new one.
    Wink-Wink …….. unless it's one I want to have. More face time and ink time you know. 😉

  3. Trudy says:

    Limit cash to $20? No way. Lower that to $0.

  4. Bill says:

    This state is becoming like California. People move here for the welfare. Make big cuts and reforms. Let these leaches go somewhere else. I work at a Cub Foods and it is sick to see what these people can buy while I scrimp and save to take care of my family. One day the system will fail and they will eat eachother.

  5. Redbarron says:

    They should be required to take ramdom drug tests.. my employer requires it from me to why shouldn’t we require it from them? You test dirty.. bye…. bye .. no more welfare… problem solved…

    1. anonymous says:

      I totally agree. Far too mency any on MFIP have chemical dependency barriers. Hennepin County is bad. But then again, I’d be out of a job!

  6. wick says:

    Seeing that they are living off the taxpayers do they get a pension like all other govt employees. I hope there pension isn’t cut and they get to keep the collective bargaining rights.

    1. anonymous says:

      No, but many do, if deemed unemployable, apply for social security and get it.

  7. Cindy says:

    You give a man a fish, he will eat for one day. You teach the man to fish, he will eat every day.
    Passing out other peoples hard earned money to people who refuse to work is wrong and needs to stop. Walfare is treated as a lifestyle now not as the short term help it was meant for, End the lifestyle and use it as it should be used and this would not be an issue!

  8. Kool aid ya'll sipping? says:

    So many comments here and so many opinions that vary.
    What does not seem to vary much is the fact all you people even today cannot spell or use proper grammar. Imagine that ! A world of illiterate Americans taering apart those that most likely don’t even have a computer. LMFAO

    1. Mel says:

      Most people are writing their comments via ipod or some other wireless device, so it’s a slip of the finger that causes most misspelled words, not ignorance. Happens to me all the time.

    2. Gary says:

      What’s with the acronym at the end of your comment? And you spelled tearing incorrectly. Also it would be Y’ all not ya ‘ll. Finally, you are no more literate than anyone else. Crack a book.

  9. Kool aid ya'll sipping? says:

    Not a single correction made yet on my misspelled word? Imagine that. As I said – illiterate complainers abound here

    1. Jason says:

      They were ignoring you because you sound like a fool.

    2. anonymous says:

      Um, I don’t see a ‘edit’ button? I’m on my phone, and it made a few errors. Anyways…

  10. Joe Mauer says:

    What does taering mean oh wise one?

  11. Nancy Aleshire says:

    There is a simple way to deal with this. First of all, no EBT benefits given as cash. Instead expand the items list for which food stamps can be used. This should include necessities as diapers, paper goods and cleaning items. Without the cash, people could not use it for cigarettes, liquor, and lottery cards.

  12. marcy says:

    Raising the minimum wage so that unskilled laborers can actually provide for their families might shrink the number of welfare recipients considerably.

  13. bob says:

    From the Gerald R Ford school of public policy in Michigan
    Illicit drug use and dependence are more common among women receiving welfare than among women who do not. Illicit drug use remains associated with welfare receipt even after controlling for race, educational attainment, region, and other potential confounders. If all welfare recipients were to stop using illicit drugs, however, the size of the welfare population would show little decline.9
    Drug testing wouldn’t make a dent At about 50 a test, it would add more money to the welfare bill in the long run.

  14. Kristin says:

    People think it’s an easy answer – just do this or just do that and negative things won’t happen. Our social structure is like a spider web, everything is intertwined and if you don’t understand that concept you won’t understand how the whole cycle of welfare and chemical dependency exists. The answers are so far from simple that it would take years to turn things around. Passing legislation on a bill created by comments coming from grocery retailers is not the way to go about making a progressive change for the better in this case. The poor and needy ALWAYS get thrown under the bus first. I would like to see some empirical evidence to back up the common sense of this bill.

  15. Victim Du Jour says:

    They should have Public School for poor people, make it like a job where they have to show up everyday for help.

    Reward people who pass drug tests and take school seriously with a nicer location, better section 8 and extra benefits.

    And they should be able to extend and have better benefits if they pay into it with a job and pass drug testing.

  16. Hugh Jass says:

    Just keep giving me my money. I deserve it. You people work and I get to sit back and relax on the public dole. Remember to keep voting Democratic !!!

  17. "welfare" recipient says:

    Wow…I am completely shocked and offended at all of the comments. I am a single mom of two, I work, I go to school, and I receive assistance. Am I not doing enough? trying hard enough? Not all welfare receipiants abuse the system but alot do. It’s not fair because you assume everyone is a crackhead, a drunk, gambles the money away….your wrong. I bust my @@@ everyday to give my children the life they deserve but if it weren’t for the assistance we receive…I can only imagine where we would be in life. I am just trying to say that some people really do need and deserve the help. I would like to add that something more could be done with the EBT cards, as far as verifying the user to the account, just like using any other credit card. Print our names on it, put a picture on it, a signature… is way to easy sell your food stamps or have your card stolen.

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