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Chairman Reichert Introduces Bill to Block Access to Welfare Benefits in Stores Selling Marijuana

March 04, 2014

Washington, DC – Today, Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA), Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO), Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) and nine additional Members of Congress introduced legislation to ensure taxpayer-funded welfare benefits are not used at stores selling marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  The Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act (H.R. 4137) would prohibit individuals from using welfare benefit cards for purchases at marijuana stores, as well as forbid the withdrawal of welfare cash at ATMs in these stores. The legislation aligns with other commonsense prohibitions enacted in recent years such as preventing recipients from accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare benefits in liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs by adding stores selling marijuana to the list.

A recent report examining welfare transactions in Colorado revealed over $5,000 in welfare benefits have been withdrawn at ATMs in stores selling marijuana in just the first month such stores were open. As Colorado and Washington have voted to allow the legal sale of marijuana (and other States may soon follow), this bill is a commonsense measure to ensure welfare funds are used as intended – to support the needs of low-income families with children – and not to support drug use.

“The fact that some people are using welfare for weed is outrageous,” said Chairman Reichert. “It’s offensive to taxpayers working to pay for these benefits, and it’s insulting to low-income families who truly need help to make ends meet. Welfare should help the less fortunate get out of poverty and move up the economic ladder, and this bill will ensure welfare isn’t wasted on marijuana – the use of which is likely to only increase poverty and reduce success. While some may decide to spend their own money on drugs, we’re not going to give them a taxpayer subsidy to do it.”

Original cosponsors from the Ways and Means Committee include Representatives Smith (R-NE), Black (R-TN), Reed (R-NY), Young (R-IN), Kelly (R-PA), and Griffin (R-AR).  Other original cosponsors include Representatives Lamborn (R-CO), Coffman (R-CO), and Gosar (R-AZ).

On February 22, 2012, the Welfare Integrity and Data Improvement Act (Title IV of Public Law 112-96) was enacted.  This law requires States to prevent welfare recipients from accessing cash welfare benefits electronically in liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.  By February 22, 2014, States were required to report to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) how they have implemented these restrictions.  States can be financially penalized if they do not report their actions to HHS or the agency determines that the steps a State has taken to block such transactions are inadequate.

States have reported taking a number of steps to block access to welfare benefits at liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs. States are now electronically blocking transactions at ATMs in such retail establishments, notifying retailers they cannot accept welfare benefit cards at their stores, informing recipients of the prohibition, and monitoring benefit card usage to ensure compliance with the law.