Abuse of welfare benefits shows need for reform

A Seattle TV station found welfare cards were being used at strip clubs and sex shops. Lawmakers need to take action.


We, as a society, accept the idea of offering public assistance -- welfare -- to those who have fallen on hard times as the humane thing to do. As a result, welfare has been a part of American culture for decades.

Yet, exactly how those welfare funds are distributed continues to be hotly debated across the country, and for good reason.

Some people so abuse the welfare system -- as well as the public trust -- that their actions cast doubt on the welfare system (as well as common decency).

Earlier this month Seattle TV station KING did an investigation that found Washington state welfare debit cards -- Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards -- are being used at strip clubs and sex shops.

As a result, state Sen. Mike Carrell has proposed legislation to prevent the use of Washington's welfare cash cards from being used at strip clubs, tattoo parlors, gun shops or to buy alcohol.

Frankly, it's surprising that transactions in these establishments are not already banned. It should be obvious that tax dollars aimed at providing the basics, such as food, should not be spent at strip clubs.

But just getting the law on the books isn't enough. The law has to be enforced and the owners of those businesses have an obligation to help. That starts by making it clear they won't accept welfare funds.

Earlier, KING found that about $2 million in welfare funds were used at casinos in a one-year period even though gambling with welfare cash is already illegal. In the wake of that discovery, the Department of Social and Health Services asked casinos to block the use of the cards at their ATMs. Most have complied.

Still, the damage done by those who gamble away their welfare money (and most do lose) goes beyond the $2 million lost. It erodes public confidence in the welfare system. This leads to a backlash and calls for reduction, even an end, to welfare payments.

Welfare should not be eliminated. It is necessary in situations when people need a helping hand to get them through a difficult circumstance.

But it's clear -- as evidenced by the use of EBT cards at strip clubs and sex shops -- welfare in Washington state needs reform. Lawmakers need to make it a priority.

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