House Bill Prohibits Withdrawal of Welfare Funds from Certain Locations

House Bill Prohibits Withdrawal of Welfare Funds from Certain Locations

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With a record 46 million Americans in poverty, a bill has passed the U.S. House that would make it illegal to withdraw welfare funds at automated teller machines in liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.

The legislation, formally titled the Welfare Integrity Now for Children and Families Act of 2011, passed the House 395 to 27 this week.

House Republicans want the provisions in the bill to be part of a pending agreement to extend the payroll tax cut. The chief sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), represents a district in the fourth poorest state in the U.S., Louisiana.

Over 15% of the total population in the U.S. lives in poverty. The number of poor Americans is the highest in 51 years at 46 million, roughly 1 in 7 people, below the poverty line according to the CENSUS Bureau.  Further, 22% of children in America live in poverty, the highest percentage since 1993 and the highest number of children, 16 million, since 1963, according to the Brookings Institution.

The number of Americans relying on welfare has increased dramatically over the last two decades.  Welfare programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and food stamps, also known as SNAP, are turned to by many struggling Americans.  The average monthly TANF allotment per household is $499. The average food stamp allotment per person is $4.45 a day.

The vote puts many members in a risky political position.  Voting against the legislation could easily become a campaign issue in fall campaigns and spun as support for welfare fraud.  When Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who has been an advocate of  the poor, was asked why he voted in favor of Boustany’s bill, and whether it was a “political trap” he quickly answered “yes” when talking to Politic365.

Another member who voted “yes,” was Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who represents Harlem.  “It was ridiculous — another political move,” he told Politic365 shaking his head in an interview.

Several members who represent some of the poorest Congressional districts in the nation voted in favor of Boustany’s bill.  They include Reps. Jose Serrano (D-NY) who represents the poorest congressional district in the U.S. and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) who represents the second poorest.

When Boustany was asked about his legislation he said, “we have an obligation to make sure the money — which are federal tax dollars — gets into the hands of those who need it… what we’re trying to do is shut down an abuse.  There are arguments made that this is going to shut down access and that’s an entirely bogus argument,” Rep. Boustany, said.

“This is trying to cut down on the blatant abuses,” Boustany added. When asked if he was concerned that the GOP could be tagged as a party with no compassion given the record poverty in the country, Boustany said, “those are attempts to get political points and that really does not constitute real policy.”

News reports citing individuals who spent their assistance in strip clubs, liquor stores, and casinos was referenced by Rep. Boustany.  Over the last ten years there have been several news reports on taxpayer money wasted or “lost” in other cases — such as Iraq — running in the billions of dollars.  No legislation has passed in the House during the 112th Congress confronting the issue of that waste.

In June 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that $6.6 billion dollars in American taxpayer money was “lost” in Iraq.  Last week, CNN reported that a Department of Defense audit showed that $2 billion dollars in taxpayer money was missing.

When questioned about billions of taxpayer’s money that has disappeared in those cases, Boustany said, “We have an obligation to root out waste fraud and abuse in all programs and we’re working on those.”  Boustany also made the point that his subcommittee’s oversight jurisdiction does not include Iraq.

Several of the 27 members who voted against Boustany’s legislation were pointed in their criticism and said cost would be an issue.

“It’s an expensive thing to do. They’re going to re-program every ATM machine? You’re putting an expensive burden on local and state governments. What’s the real purpose? Is there a huge problem with people paying for lap dancing with TANF cards?,” said Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York.

“The taxpayer dollar is being wasted by setting up this expensive mandate to tamper and reset every ATM machine around the state,” said Nadler added.

Rep. Lacy Clay, a Democrat who represents St. Louis, said, “I see it as being unworkable. I think it’s wrong. I think they’re out of line and trying to score cheap political points.”

“Because a person cashes a check in a casino doesn’t mean they are going to use it in the casino. There’s no law that says that a person who cashes the check across the street at a bank can’t just do that and walk into a casino,” said Rep. Don Payne, a Democrat who represents Newark. N.J.

“It just made no sense to me and I think it was just a statement against people in need. It’s just mean spirited to kick people because they’re down and I don’t think it makes sense,” Payne added.

“It just shows that the Republican party is making race the major issue. They’re doing that to try to stimulate votes to come out so they can have a political wave to try to excite their people into voting.  Strictly race — we can see that this election is going to be based on race and this is another type of racial subtlety they are using in their campaign,” Payne pointedly added.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) wondered how it would be enforced and questioned why poor people should be barred from entertainment.

“I don’t think just because you’re on welfare that you should never drink a beer,” said Rep. Frank. “It’s impossible to enforce and it’s a violation of states rights,” Barney Frank said. “If you want to say people who are on welfare can’t have entertainment that’s one thing but why should they be able to go to a movie but not to a naked person dancing — I don’t make a moral distinction there,” Frank added.

Only one Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) voted against the legislation.  In a statement he said, “News reports… allege that welfare recipients have spent their cash payments at strip clubs, liquor stores, and casinos. Politicians and the media have falsely asserted that this bill prohibits the use of welfare funds at those establishments…. Members of Congress should stop misleading the public.”

LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus.  She is heard every Tuesday on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WHUR and WPFW in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter at @crewof42

15 COMMENTS

  1. Republicans always do this crap. They believe that anyone who receives federal funds are junkies and lowlifes, its their fuc-ed up view of the world. In reality, most of the clients at strip clubs are people exactly like Boustany, self-righteous pricks. In Florida, our beloved governor tried to get any welfare recipient tested for drugs. It would have been OK if they forced the governor, who also receives government money, to participate.

    • help me understand – why is it so wrong to ask for accountability in return for taking assistence? Why do you feel it appropriate to take from me and give to others – without asking for something in return?

      There is a huge difference between giving a hand up and giving a handout. I don't think most rich white people I know resent giving people and hand up. Everyone should resent giving long-term handouts.

      Let's get real about government assistance – handouts don't work and they often KEEP people in poverty. There will ALWAYS be a segment of the population who will never be able to care for themselves and we need to do something for them for life in some way. Real reform would help other people be prepared for life and give them a fighting chance at getting out of poverty. Don't you agree this should be the goal?

      • Your a dumb ass: Most people on welfare WORK — they are the working poor — at the cash register at Target. You don't know what you're talking about on a basic factual level. No one can stay on welfare for more than about 9 months. Read about what you're talking about before making judgements on others.

        No one is taking your money. Get over yourself. I know you want to sit and believe you work so hard and someone is cheating you and living off your tax dollar — that's BS. Then you sit there like a punkass and watch this country send billions overseas and doo you whine then?

        Just because you made it and mommy and daddy paid for your education doesn't mean everyone has that life. So am I "helping you to understand" now?

      • Matt I know who you are. You're the dummy these Republicans play to when they talk about welfare queens. You believe every bit of it. And I see it has worked like a charm.

  2. Tony – thanks for your feedback. I was talking about the working poor just today. We gotta do something about that. Raise the minimum wage maybe? That would be a start. What else is needed? Throw out an idea! How about requiring a GED or some type of training – in order for a single mother to continue getting welfare – and extending welfare for another 90 days in order to help her do so…

    Tony – I haven't made it. I am scraping by and I work like hell to get out of the mess I created by not reacting to my circumstances faster. I am not rich… Mommy and Daddy did pay for my education. They saved their money and sacrificed and lived a life of personal responsibility. Do you begrudge them or me? Why? I had to go to school, learn and do my homework and study in order to get where I am now which ain't great.

  3. Tony -how is that "no one is taking my money"? If I work and some don't and don't have intentions of doing so and get paid to have children. Let's draw a line of distinction here. I think there are people – black and white – who need a lot of assistance. I don't think I should support someone who is able bodied and CHOOSES not to work or otherwise better themselves. Do you feel me Bro? I assume you work hard for your money. Does it bother you to have to pay for "freeloaders" – those who can work,study etc. but choose not to?

    Let's not confuse bad foreign policy with bad domestic policy – you sound desperate and unwilling to call lazy people looking for a handout just that – lazy.

  4. Tony – come to Charlotte and I'll take you to the Men's homeless shelter- I'll introduce you to a man who berated me because he had to eat a free meal using plastic cutlery. Certainly he was in the minority and most people were quite thankful for what had been lovingly provided. I felt blessed to help give and they felt blessed to receive.

    I'll introduce you to a friend who cut and delivered firewood to a poor section of town. He said a large group of young, able-bodied men stood by drinking alchohol and asked him when he would be done unloading the wood – rather than helping…

    it is THAT ATTITUDE that guys like me cannot tolerate.

    You feel me?

    • See the part you don't understand here is: It's not about THEM it's about you. You can't change people standing at the liquor store. There will always be people at the liquor store. I

      The question is: Do we condemn or do we help or do we do nothing. What do the people who can help do to help the people who need it — for what ever reason. But careful judging. OK you are not rich– but I'm gonna take a wild guess here that you're a lot better off than the people at the shelter or at the liquor store. but it's not US vs THEM It's us who are in a better situation figuring out how best to improve the situation for everybody. Some can be saved, some can't. There are always fools. What else is new. There is no need for judgement. That's a waste of time. .

      • Tony – I may be off base here but why is the problem me? You want me to change – shut up and pay my taxes.

        Why won't you ask someone who hasn't worked to do something – like better themselves by getting an education? Like not getting pregnant? Like getting a job -even one that may be "beneath them" for a time? I did all of those things and I'm not anyone special. Is THAT being judgemental?

        I want to help – those that truly need help. I don't want to help those that abuse the system. I have met both types.

        I agree that it isn't US versus THEM – it is US and THEM and really just US ALL. Forgive me as I have been jumping between the author's articles but I posed ideas there that I will again here:

  5. Hey Not on Welfare – I am no dummy. I know that being poor isn't fun, pretty or easy. I know there are many, many people who sacrifice by working several jobs to make life better for their children. What beautiful examples those people are!

    I also know from very personal experience that there are others who take advantage of the system – Republican, Democrat, black and white. Those people I do not want to help. How about you?

    I'd start with term limits for Washington politicians. Then I'd get money out of politics. Next I would cut stupid spending – like tax breaks for oil companies. I'd follow it up with among other things meaningful welfare reform – a help up instead of a hand out – so that people have a better chance of getting out of the cycle of poverty. How about rich people get a tax deduction for teaching basic life skills to the poor.

  6. Well said Matt. People continue to give excuses for people who don't want to work but to rely on welfare. Anecdotally, there are lots of lazy folks who would rather collect a check than actually work. I don't know why some people continue to make excuses for that irresponsibility rather than require education, training and limit the time people can stay on welfare irrespective of the race, political affiliation. I feel for the children and I know not all abuse the system and many need the help, but those who are just lazy exploiters need to get off my dime!

  7. […] House GOP's New Fetish: Strip Clubs and Welfare MomsPolitic365House Republicans want the provisions in the bill to be part of a pending agreement to extend the payroll tax cut. The chief sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), represents a district in the fourth poorest state in the US, …y más » […]

  8. THIS is why they never seem to get anything accomplished in DC – They go looking for stupid crap to make up in order to insure that the Voters are paying so much attention to the BS fantasy they put out that we don't pay attention to what they are REALLY doing!

    Unfortunately, the average American is so dumb and uneducated that this tactic actually WORKS! Really sad …

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