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Booze, gambling not necessities

Social welfare programs are designed to help those truly in need, but when the “need” is for alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, tattoos and strippers these individuals shouldn’t be allowed to look to the American taxpayers for hand outs.

That is the common sense approach that many states are now taking — or at least considering — according to a recent Associated Press article.

Why reform and why now? Because programs like these are a big part of our nation’s domestic budget.

According to the report, nearly 4.4 million people received approximately $30 billion in cash assistance in the 2011 fiscal year through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. As an aside, more than 44 million people received food stamps in that same time period and that program has had restrictive guidelines for years.

Some of the reform push — ongoing in at least 14 states and adopted in 10 others over the past decade or so — has been sparked by federal legislation that bars welfare recipients from using their cash assistance funds in strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores, among other places. Although the states must get on board with this by 2014, many are taking it even a step or two farther.

Several states are working to expand bans of items that cannot be bought on the taxpayer dime to include pornography, luxury cruises, psychic readings, tattoos and guns.

It is hard for me to argue with their logic. The challenge becomes how to enforce it.

Many have taken steps to require that ATM machines in establishments such as casinos, bars and strip clubs do not accept the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards that are the mechanism through which individuals receive this financial help.

This is certainly a good step when used in combination with fines for businesses that break the rules.

Critics of these reform efforts say that it stereotypes the poor and those in need of assistance.

That is absolute nonsense.

We all know that many people receiving government assistance are simply trying to make ends meet and need every penny to do so. But the reality is it is clear that at least some statistically significant number of individuals play the system and misuse truckloads of taxpayer dollars.

How widespread is the abuse? The answer to that question is difficult to quantify.

According to the AP reports, a 2010 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that $1.8 million in welfare benefits had been taken out of cash machines at California casinos in an eight-month period.

There are numerous other cases as well that show the documented abuse is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, in a presidential election year, this issue will be made out to be about choosing sides. But this reform really shouldn’t be about partisan politics.

Although Republicans and Democrats might disagree on the level to which social welfare programs should operate, there certainly can be an agreement that there is a need to help some who are less fortunate or facing difficult times.

As long as the taxpayers are paying for it, the American people have a right to know their hard-earned money is being spent on life’s real necessities.

 

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.