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GOP lawmakers call for tightening welfare payments

ST. PAUL -- Two Republican legislators want to crack down on what they call welfare waste, but Democrats say their idea likely would cost more than it saves.

Sen. Doug Magnus of Slayton and Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown introduced bills Thursday that would prohibit out-of-state purchases with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, restrict what the cards can be used to buy and forbid welfare recipients using the cards to get cash.

"The accountability of the state's EBT system has been called into question and the misuse of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable," Magnus said.

Next to a table full of beer cans, a whiskey bottle, cigarettes and lottery tickets, Magnus and Daudt said Minnesotans on welfare should not be allowed to buy such items with EBT cards. The cards are like credit cards issued to the poor by the state for food and other basic needs.

Federal rules do not allow restrictions on where recipients may purchase food, so the bill would not force food purchases only in Minnesota. But the bill would restrict other purchases to within the state.

The bill requires merchants to check a photo identification of anyone using an EBT card, but does not specifically forbid a store from selling a product if the EBT card and identification do not match.

Magnus and Daudt have no penalty in their bill for violations.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, plans to introduce a stricter bill that requires a photo on the EBT card.

Neither of the bills would penalize the business accepting cards, something that Democrats opposed to the measures noticed.

"These are vulnerable Minnesotans," Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

As for those who buy tobacco and alcohol products with EBT cards, Hayden added: "Everyone makes a poor choice once in a while."

Requiring a photo ID would mean some poor, such as those in shelters, may not be able to use an EBT, Hayden added.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the bill could end up costing more than it saves in waste prevention, but he had no objections to making abuse of the welfare program illegal.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.