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Should California Welfare Money Be Spent On Alcohol And Tobacco?

Paresh Dave |
February 18, 2011 | 4:21 p.m. PST

Executive Producer

California Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton introduced a bill this week to keep welfare recipients from using taxpayer money to buy alcohol and tobacco products while maintaining the overall amount of money they receive.

Food stamps already can't be used to buy items such as beer or cigarettes, but cash grants awared on debit cards through the state's CalWorks programs don't ban those purchases from being made at the point-of-sale.

“This is a blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars,” Dutton said in a press release. “Those who receive cash assistance should use that money to pay for the necessities of life. Paying rent, utilities and buying clothing for their children are examples of what taxpayer dollars should go towards."

By not cutting the amount of money the state sends to welfare programs, Dutton hopes to get Democrats on board with supporting the measure.

Liberals have also repeatedly pushed for measures that curb smoking. Sen. Alex Padilla re-introduced a bill this week that would raise the state's tobacco tax to $1.61. If Gov. Jerry Brown gets his wish for a statewide special election in June, voters would also have the chance to raise the tobacco tax by another dollar. Money raised from the increased tax would be pegged to cancer research.

A call placed to CalWorks to find out exactly how much welfare money is spent on alcohol and tobacco purchases was not immediately returned on Friday.

After an L.A. Times report last year showed welfare money was being spent at casinos and strip clubs, the Legislature was quick to ban the EBT cards from being used at such venues. Later, the Times found $69 million had been withdrawn from out-of-state ATMs, including ones in Hawaii and Las Vegas.

A Dutton spokesman said they have been working closely with the California Grocers Association to earn their support of SB 417 by making it the new restrictions as easy to put in place as possible.

CalWorks is the state's largest aid program for needy families and is expected to serve 580,000 families each month in the next fiscal year, according to Brown's budget proposal. Part of the program uses more than a $100 million to curb substance among those welfare recipients.

Reach executive producer Paresh Dave here. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.



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