ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE)- Should people on welfare be allowed to get cash at casinos, liquor stores or strip clubs?
The Feds say no and now the state has followed suit.
Lawmakers failed to pass a bill restricting EBT card use this session. Yet, with the threat of a federal funding cut looming, the governor took matters into her own hands and made it a rule.
However, Kennicott says, it’s not just the federal government motivating state leaders.
“Any dollar lost to fraud is a dollar you can’t get back and is a dollar that can’t be used by somebody that needs to use it properly,” says Kennicott.
Matt Kennicott works for the New Mexico Human Services Department. He’s one of the ones who helped draft the bill that would keep people from using their debit cards at liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs. He followed the bill through the House but it never made through the Senate.
“It was very disappointing to see good, common sense legislation like that die,” says Kennicott, Director of External Affairs.
The Feds require states have statutes or rules that prevent people from using their EBT cards at those places. If not, they lose out on federal money.
It’s why Governor Susana Martinez has now prohibited the practice by issuing a rule.
“It’s also important for us to keep a good eye on the taxpayer dollars and be good stewards of the tax payer dollars, trying to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse out of the system,” explains Kennicott.
It’s potential abuse News 13’s Kim Holland uncovered last February on special assignment-$1,600 withdrawn from strip clubs in Albuquerque, another $5,000 at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.
But some lawmakers say, that’s not proof of misuse.
“We don’t know if that money’s being spent on buying food or any of the other requirements under federal law. Just because it’s being withdrawn from a certain location, I don’t think you can make those assumptions and penalize people for that,” says State Senator Jacob Candelaria.
While Candelaria believes it’s unfair to assume working families are abusing the system, he does agree that benefits meant for living expenses should be spent on just that.
“For helping those families meet their most basic needs,” says Candelaria.
Kennicott says there is concern with the governor’s action in rural parts of the state. There may be some communities that only have one store where they can buy groceries.
Welfare benefits provide 140,000 New Mexicans with money for basics like food and housing.
Without a rule in place, New Mexico could lose out on $5.5 million in federal money for benefits.