On the final day of the Alabama legislative session, lawmakers will likely take up three bills involving welfare benefits. All of the bills have passed through the Senate and await votes from the Alabama House of Representatives.
Senator Arthur Orr sponsored two of the bills. One would limit what people could buy with public assistance money. EBT cards would not be able to be used to buy liquor or cigarettes. Recipients would also not be able to use them in casinos, tattoo parlors, and adult entertainment businesses.
The bill would also prevent people from using the cards to pay for psychic services. The first time someone was caught using the card for any of those items, they would lose eligibility for EBT and state cash benefits for a month. The second time, they would lose eligibility for three months. The third time could mean they would ineligible for state public assistance in Alabama permanently.
"If the adults are spending it on liquor and cigarettes, it's certainly not going to the children. So they're literally taking the children's milk money and spending it things they ought not be spending it on, and we don't have an enforcement provision in our state law for this," Orr said.
Orr also sponsored a bill that would not only go after people who deceive to get benefits, but also those who help them do it. That could be health care providers who falsify or unnecessarily hike Medicaid claims. Housing providers who help unqualified people get section eight housing would also be penalized.
"It includes Medicaid. It includes public housing. It includes SNAP benefits or TANF benefits. That's welfare and food stamps. So, any government benefit that someone is receiving, if they're defrauding the government, this gives prosecutors more tools to crack down on such fraudulent activities," Orr said.
Orr is also the co-sponsor of a bill that would allow drug testing of some welfare recipients. The bill would enable DHR officials to test welfare applicants if they have a reasonable suspicion the applicant has drug issues. It would also deny or halt benefits to anyone convicted of a felony drug charge.