Federal law limits welfare debit card use at casinos, strip clubs

Oklahoma Department of Human Services already has begun working with the provider of debit cards for the cash welfare program TANF to limit the cards use at strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: July 9, 2012
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Debit cards also are used for foster care parents and benefits for adoptions.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2010 that debit cards with welfare funds were used to withdraw $4.8 million in casinos and $12,000 in strip clubs over a three-year period.

Powell said that her understanding was that the transactions made on the cards are not public record because of federal banking regulations and are not housed at the Department of Human Services.

Further study

Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said he'd need to study the issue further.

“Anytime you try to help people, you obviously ask of them that they embrace the help in the most positive and productive way possible, and sometimes that means putting some restrictions in place,” Holt said. “We want these programs to be successful.”

Holt was the Senate author of House Bill 2388, which goes into law in November. The law allows DHS to screen welfare recipients if there is reasonable cause to believe the applicant is using illegal drugs.

Before this law was passed, DHS had allowed known drug users to continue to receive cash welfare if they are in treatment such as rehab.

“We felt that defied common sense,” Holt said.

“We changed the law so that now people that DHS knows to be using illegal drugs will not receive cash benefits.”

Holt said they can reapply for the benefit after six months and completing rehabilitation.

Good compromise

Rep. Scott Inman, the Democratic minority leader in the House, said he thought the final drug screening law was a good compromise from the original bill which would have required drug screening of every welfare recipient.

“They wanted to go a lot further than what they did this year,” Inman said.

“We wanted to extend it to drug testing of legislators, but unfortunately the Senate removed that amendment.”

He said as it was written it doesn't cast too wide of a net.

“The idea is to ensure that state tax dollars are being used wisely and not being used to maintain a drug user's lifestyle,” Inman said.

He said if reports are true that welfare dollars are being used in casinos, liquor stores and strip clubs he would be very concerned.

“But you've always got the issue of enforcement,” he said.

“How do you monitor that?”