Prohibiting the use of welfare cash benefits for liquor, gambling or in strip clubs is the goal of federal legislation signed by President Barack Obama in February. And by 2014 all 50 states must follow suit.
But policing how the cash assistance is used would not be easy.
"As long as they're using cash, I don't know how this would be enforced," said Bob Davis of Marietta. "I don't think you can dictate how people decide to live."
According to a recent Associated Press report, approximately 4.4 million people received about $30 billion in cash assistance through the federal-state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare program during fiscal year 2011.
But some of that money is not being used as it was intended.
The AP refers to California where a 2010 Los Angeles Times investigation found that $1.8 million in welfare benefits were taken out of cash machines at casinos over an eight-month period.
At a glance
- A portion of legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year bars welfare recipients from using their cash assistance in strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.
- By 2014 all 50 states must change their own laws to conform with the federal regulation.
- Around $30 billion was issued in cash assistance in the U.S. during fiscal year 2011 through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare program.
Source: Associated Press
Edwina Campbell of McConnelsville agreed something has to be done, but she's not sure what will work.
"People will always find a way around it," she said. "No matter what you try to do to help people, some will end up cheating the system."
Campbell added that people have to learn to live more frugally.
Devola resident Chuck Meeks said something has to be done about welfare assistance spending.
"There should be more restriction and limits placed on spending by those who receive these benefits," he said.
Meeks noted the government has always placed restrictions on what kind of food can be purchased with food stamps, and believes similar regulations could be developed to govern how cash assistance is used.
Welfare recipients currently receive cash assistance through EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, similar to debit cards that can be used to make purchases or to withdraw cash from ATM machines.
While some states have already passed legislation restricting the use of welfare assistance, most, including Ohio, have not.
"But it's something I would not object to, as these are taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta.
"This is funding to help people get back on their feet, but we don't want abuse of this program," he added. "The money is not for luxuries. I would hope we can count on all states to make a rational decision. It's important that we do address any problems with the welfare system."
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6th District, said more jobs will make a difference in the amount the nation spends on welfare.
"Under the Obama economy, the number of Americans living in poverty has surged and the unemployment rate remains above 8 percent - where it's been for the past 41 months," Johnson said in an e-mailed statment Sunday.
"The solution to reducing the welfare and food stamp roles is jobs and opportunities. We need to ensure that those on welfare are there temporarily and are actively looking for work," he added. "We must also ensure that the tax dollars welfare recipients receive from the American taxpayers are spent responsibly on the basic necessities to sustain them during a difficult time."
In the last 12 years, 10 states have passed laws restricting welfare purchases, and 14 others are proposing similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In those states, welfare recipients who violate the law may face imprisonment, loss of benefits, and fines (depending on the state) ranging from $25 to $2,000.