Updated: 03/05/2014 4:09 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert
A task force formed during last year's special Legislative session to explore ways to "eliminate" the purchase of tobacco and alcohol with Minnesota welfare cash issued its final report Tuesday, endorsing previous reforms as successful, calling for expanded ATM restrictions, and including a potentially controversial new idea to ban EBT card use at ATMs inside bars.
"This really is designed to get to the core of the problem," Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in an interview, "which is to reduce the misuse and abuse of the welfare dollars."
Daudt and three other lawmakers - all Republicans - sat on the Minnesota EBT Business Task Force, along with a representative from the Dayton administration's Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Grocers Association. A seat set aside for a credit card processor was never filled.
Click here to read the final report.
The key recommendation, also included in a welfare reform package that has already passed the House as part of the omnibus HHS bill HF2294, is to strengthen statutory language to prohibit EBT card use at ATMs inside liquor stores, tobacco shops, and tattoo parlors.
Use of the electronic welfare cards at EBT terminals inside those retailers is already banned, part of sweeping welfare reform legislation that passed after an ongoing 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Welfare Waste investigation that began in Nov. 2010 first raised some of the issues lawmakers are addressing.
The task force report cites figures provided by DHS that show the number of transactions of EBT cards at ATMs inside liquor stores has dropped 51% - from 6,748 in calendar year 2010 to 3,311 in calendar year 2011 - since welfare recipients were told mid-year that they could no longer use the benefits to purchase liquor, tobacco, or tattoos.
The warning is also now printed on the EBT card and clients are required to sign an acknowledgment.
Withdrawals of welfare cash at ATMs inside bars had a more modest decline during that same period at nearly 14%, while ATM withdrawals in tobacco stores actually shot up an unexplained 33%.
An idea briefly referred to in the task force's conclusions to perhaps explore the future elimination of ATM use at bars is already drawing opposition from some lawmakers, including the top DFLer on the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.
"I'm a little concerned about that," Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth) told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS outside the House chamber, "because you can be in certain neighborhoods where you can't find a restaurant that doesn't have a liquor license."