Bills to tighten regulations on public assistance programs passes committee
Special to The Trussville Tribune
MONTGOMERY — Republicans and Democrats joined together to send four bills to the full Senate that would tighten regulations on those receiving public assistance such as food stamps and welfare benefits.
Two of the bills passed the seven-member committee with unanimous consent and two passed with one Democrat voting no.
The four-bill package includes measures to increase penalties for fraud in taxpayer-funded public assistance programs; prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs; require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits; and allow for drug testing of welfare applicants with a drug conviction in the past five years.
The bill sponsors, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, said the proposals are part of a broader effort to increase accountability in taxpayer-funded programs and protect against abuses in the system.
Pittman said his bill, Senate Bill 63, which allows for drug testing in instances in which welfare applicants have a prior drug conviction, ensures that taxpayer-funded benefits are not enabling a reckless lifestyle.
“Drug addiction is a serious, often life-threatening problem. By putting implementing this check in the welfare application process, it will serve as an incentive for those who have a drug problem and are also in need of assistance to get help, and it protects hard-earned taxpayer dollars from enabling a dangerous habit.”
Orr added that many government assistance programs are seen as easy targets for fraud and abuse due to lack of enforcement or guidelines to ensure accountability.
Senate Bill 114, sponsored by Orr, makes it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded assistance programs like Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing. Orr said estimates have shown that Alabama is losing millions of dollars per year to health care fraud and abuse alone.
“The state literally cannot afford to continue turning a blind eye to fraud and abuse in taxpayer-funded public assistance programs,” Orr said.
Senate Bill 115, also sponsored by Orr, would require welfare applicants to apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits, a measure Orr said is intended to encourage applicants to utilize the benefits only as a last resort.
“Everyone wins when a welfare applicant is able to find a job instead of having to rely on public assistance,” Orr said.
He added that the state of Pennsylvania denied as many as eight out of every 10 welfare applicants after enacting a new, similar rule known as the pre-approval work search.
Senate Bill 116, sponsored by Orr, would prohibit welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities. According to reports from other states, millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded public assistance funds have been spent on alcohol, tobacco and at casinos and strip clubs.
“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent. This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need,” Orr said.