News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senator Jim Tracy’s (R-Shelbyville) bill to curb abuse of purchases made through Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards used by recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program sailed through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee today. Senate Bill 244 prohibits use of a welfare recipient’s EBT card in liquor stores, adult cabarets and casinos or gambling facilities.
“It is outrageous that these benefit cards, which are meant to help feed families with children in times of desperate need, are reported to have been misused for purchases like alcohol, gambling and adult cabarets,” said Senator Tracy. “Tennessee law should make it perfectly clear that we will not tolerate this fraudulent use of taxpayer money.”
The legislation comes after a report was released last summer by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which uncovered numerous examples of abuse by welfare recipients. The Center reported one transaction at a liquor store totaling $790.
Under the bill, welfare recipients who use EBT benefits at liquor stores, adult cabarets, or gambling establishments would be subject to disqualification from the program as permitted by federal law and also would have those misused benefits recouped by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. The legislation also prescribes civil penalties to businesses that sell those products and accept EBT benefits as payment in violation of the law. The fine for a violation by the seller would be $1000 for the first violation, $2500 for the second violation within five years, and $5000 for a third or subsequent violation within five years.
In addition, the bill bans the use of EBT benefits at an ATM located inside a liquor store, adult cabaret, casino or gambling establishment.
“I’m proud to sponsor this bill and help reform the welfare system in Tennessee,” said Senator Tracy. “We need to continue to make sure that taxpayer money is used appropriately and I applaud the Department of Human Services for working with me on this bill.”
“Many taxpayers struggle to make ends meet and to pay their taxes,” added Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen. “The selfish misuse of the welfare system undermines those who truly need and utilize temporary assistance lawfully and causes widespread public distrust in government services. Taxpayers should not tolerate it.”
— Note: Previous post (noting the easure is scaled back from the original version HERE.
Several proposed restrictions on the use of electronic benefit transfer cards have been dropped from proposed legislation so that it will conform with federal law, prompting complaints from some senators.
As originally filed, SB244 declared that the EBT cards, used as a debit card to provide welfare payments and food stamps, could not be used in businesses primarily selling tobacco products, tattoos or “psychic services.” Those references were deleted in an amendment presented to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee last week at the urging of state Department of Human Services officials.
Remaining are provisions covering liquor stores, “adult cabarets” and “casinos or gaming establishments.”
Nathalie Essex, assistant general counsel for the Department of Human Services, told the committee that a law enacted by Congress last year specifically authorizes states to impose the remaining restrictions, but declares states going beyond the authorization can lose federal funds. Legislative staff says the original version would “jeopardize” almost $10 million in federal money now sent to the state.
The state Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of Tennessee’s voter-photo identification law today but also ordered that new photo library cards issued by the Memphis Public Library be accepted for voting by otherwise qualified, registered voters.
From the Commercial Appeal report: The order is at least a partial victory for the City of Memphis, which originally filed a lawsuit in July asking that its new photo library cards be accepted for voting purposes by qualified registered voters. The city filed the lawsuit after the Shelby County Election Commission denied the cards as unacceptable under the law because they are not issued by a “state entity.”
The Court of Appeals ruling says:
“In light of the fact that the period of early voting for the November 6 election is currently underway, Defendants (Secretary of State Tre) Hargett and (State Election Coordinator Mark) Goins are hereby ordered to immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept photo library cards issued by the City of Memphis Public Library as acceptable ‘evidence of identification’ as provided at Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c)(2)(A).”
…The city and its two co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit, two Memphis registered voters who lack voter photo identification acceptable by the state, had also sought to have the state statute declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it adds another “qualification” for voting in Tennessee beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution: 18 years of age, a citizen of United States, a resident of Tennessee and properly registered in the voting precinct.”
But the court ruled that the law, approved in 2011 and effective with this year’s elections, is constitutional.
From a Beacon Center of Tennessee Watchdog Report: Recipients of EBT cards in Chattanooga and Knoxville used their benefits at a strip club, a bar, a tobacco shop, malls, high-end clothing stores, hotels and other places where non-essential items are sold.
As it did with EBT transactions in Memphis, Tennessee Watchdog accessed state records and examined almost 22,000 EBT purchases in Chattanooga and Knoxville. These transactions took place in June 2012.
Of the transactions (available for viewing here), 13,566 took place in Knoxville, while 8,424 occurred in Chattanooga.
As was the case in Memphis, most of the transactions occurred at grocery stores– but a small number of transactions were at businesses that do not specialize in selling essential items.
According to state records, an EBT card was used to make three separate transactions at the Th’Katch Show Club in Knoxville (Photo courtesy of TreeHugger.com).
An EBT can offer two different types of benefits — the first being food products, commonly known as food stamps, and the second deriving from the Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). Unlike food stamps, which are limited to certain food and related purchases, families on assistance through TANF receive as much as $500 per month in cash benefits and use them as they see fit.
The city of Memphis will trade gas cards and Grizzlies tickets for guns in a “judgement-free” program designed to reduce the number of weapons on the streets, reports the Commercial Appeal. During the event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Bloomfield Baptist Church, the city and its partners plan to hand over a $50 Mapco gas card for each gun a person turns in, limited to three guns, or $150 worth of gas cards, per person. Those who surrender guns will also receive two free tickets to a preseason Memphis Grizzlies game.
Mapco is footing the bill for the gas cards. Sponsors also include Clear Channel and the Memphis Grizzlies.
“We’re doing everything we can to get guns off the streets,” said Memphis Police Department director Toney Armstrong.
The guns will be taken on a “no questions asked” basis and will be destroyed. The weapons will not be tested or inspected to determine if they were used in a crime, according to police department spokeswoman Karen Rudolph.
A bill to make college student cards valid identification for voting was killed Tuesday by Republicans who said the cards are already being used too often for fraudulent purposes.
The state law that took effect Jan. 1 to require a photo ID issued by state or federal government for voting excluded college cards, including those issued by state universities.
Democratic Rep. Joe Pitts of Clarksville, sponsor of the bill, said the current law wrongfully excludes college students who might not have a driver’s license, but have met all other qualifications for voting.
“We should be encouraging young people to vote, not discouraging them,” he said.
But House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he understands that many students already obtain fake student ID cards to buy alcohol when underage, “not that my 21-year-old angel (daughter) over at UT would ever do anything like that.”
Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, a former deputy sheriff, recalled a case of a youth using a college ID to buy alcohol, then becoming involved in a fatal accident. He said the validity of a driver’s license can be readily checked by law enforcement and others, but a college ID cannot.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville rejected the Republican suggestions that students would use a fake college ID to vote.
“They might swap college IDs around to buy beer,” he said. “But vote fraud is a felony. A lot of young people like me, but they’re not going to go to prison to vote for me.”
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said that if colleges and universities could be trusted to educate young adults, they can also be trusted to issue valid ID and do so now with “campus security” in mind.
All six Democrats on the House State and Local Government Committee voted for HB2730 while 11 Republicans voted against it.
Some Tennessee legislators are eying a reduction in prize payouts for Tennessee lottery players while letting them buy tickets with debit or credit cards.
The proposals are among ideas that are being floated as a way to generate more money that can be used for college scholarships.
Both were criticized at a meeting last week of the Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force with a lottery official suggesting that a cut in prizes could be a bad business decision and the leader of a conservative group questioning the moral propriety of enticing more people to lose more money on the lottery.
According to Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. figures, 26.5 percent of net lottery proceeds generated last year went toward scholarships while 58.6 percent went into prize payouts to lottery game winners. Another 6.5 percent went to the vendors who sell the tickets and the rest to other operational expenses.
Eighteen Tennessee colleges, student groups and alumni associations earned $1.8 million last year from agreements allowing credit card companies to market college-themed cards to students and alumni, according to The Tennessean. Most of that money went to the University of Tennessee, which received $1.4 million through a marketing agreement with Chase, according to Federal Reserve data. The university’s contract, in place since 1998, is the fifth-most-lucrative in the nation.
The money funds scholarships and alumni projects, according to UT spokeswoman Gina Stafford. However, the program is on the decline.
The number of open UT affinity card accounts fell by 21 percent in 2010, and no new accounts were opened in 2010, according to Federal Reserve data. Chase has told UT it won’t renew the contract when it expires in 2012, Stafford said.
Nationally, the number of credit cards issued through colleges and alumni associations fell by 17 percent last year, according to a survey released last week by the Federal Reserve.