Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

TANF’

Strippers, booze and slots soon to be off-limits for welfare recipients

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida welfare recipients won’t be allowed to use state-issued debit cards at strip joints, liquor stores or casinos under a bill on its way to Gov. Rick Scott, who is certain to approve the measure.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved the measure with no debate this morning.

House sponsor Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, says the bill (HB 701) is needed to comply with a federal law banning the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or “TANF,” at liquor stores, gambling locales or places that specialize in adult entertainment, including porn shops. Smith said needs to act before Feb. 14 or risk losing out on 5 percent of the funds for the program.

The bill (HB 701) which bans the state’s poorest-of-the-poor from using the debit cards at liquor stores, adult entertainment establishments – including porn shops – and other gaming establishments.

“This is a victory for Florida taxpayers who can now know that their hard-earned tax dollars are truly being used to help needy families get back on their feet so they can become independent and self-sufficient,” Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said in a statement.

The federal “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012” requires states to maintain policies to prevent cash assistance “from being used in any electronic benefit transfer transaction in any liquor store; any casino, gambling casino, or gaming establishment; or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment.”

TANF recipients receive debit cards, or “EBTs,” which they can use to get cash from ATMs or to make purchases. Unlike food stamps, there are no restrictions on what items can be bought with the cards.

A year before the federal law was passed, a Florida representative proposed similar restrictions in response to a television expose, later substantiated by state officials, that found that of 1.3 million transactions totaling nearly $202 million over a two-year period in Florida, about $93,000 was drawn at places with liquor licenses, strip clubs or gambling sites.

Scott takes drug testing of welfare recipients to Supreme Court

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott will appeal a federal court ruling upholding a ban on drug testing of Florida welfare recipients.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found that Scott’s lawyers did not make the case for lifting the injunction on the urine tests for people applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. A federal judge in Florida issued the temporary injunction in October 2011, finding the law – pushed by Scott in his first year in office – violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

The three-judge panel agreed.

“The simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy,” wrote Judge Rosemary Barkett in the 38-page opinion.

But Scott issued a statement said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court’s ruling today is disturbing. Welfare is 100 percent about helping children. Welfare is taxpayer money to help people looking for jobs who have children. Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the wellbeing of Florida families. We will protect children and families in our state, and this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court,” Scott, who is running for re-election next year, said.

U.S. District Mary Scriven has not yet ruled on whether to permanently strike down the law in the case filed by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of Luis W. Lebron. She could issue a ruling on that matter at any time, said Maria Kayanan, the lead ACLU lawyer in the case.

Both today’s ruling and Scriven’s opinion found that the plaintiffs are likely to win their arguments that the law is unconstitutional. Kayanan said Tuesday’s opinion showed that Scott’s administration has a “heavy burden” to prove that the law is not.

“After reading the court of appeals opinion, to ask the Supreme Court to review this decision is political theater based on ideology,” Kayanan said.

The court rejected all of Scott’s arguments that the law is necessary, including that there is a “special” reason for the government to require the drug tests.

And the court rejected Scott’s argument that the tests are needed to make sure that children whose parents receive the temporary cash aid are safe and that “none of the State’s asserted concerns will be ameliorated by drug testing.”

And the court rejected the argument that the urine tests are not an unconstitutional search because TANF recipients must “consent” to the drug tests in order to get benefits.

The mandated ‘consent’ the State relies on here, which is not freely and voluntarily given, runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s long-standing admonition that the government ‘may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests,’” Barkett wrote.

Filings in the case showed that the drug testing done by the Department of Children and Families was problematic. DCF stopped the tests after the Scriven blocked the law in October 2011.

Welfare drug tests proved problematic, court documents show

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

New court filings in a lawsuit over Gov. Rick Scott’s mandatory drug testing of applicants for welfare assistance reveal a hastily patched-together system marked by a lack of protocol and uniformity and concerns by state workers that the process was overreaching.

Documents filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on Monday revealed that one applicant with kidney failure and on dialysis was forced to submit urine via a catheter. Another had to leave her young children alone with a drug test company employee while going to the bathroom to provide a urine sample. And one batch of drug tests from an unapproved lab in West Palm Beach was found in a box in a Department of Children and Families office.

Dozens of applicants who tested positive for drugs were then referred to the state abuse hotline and investigated, the records showed, although testing positive for drugs alone is not a reason for an investigation under other circumstances.

The documents, uncovered by the ACLU as part of the discovery in the lawsuit against Scott’s administration, also reveal that some counties did not have approved testing labs and the department would not provide funds for transportation.

Read the ACLU’sACLU’s and DCF’s motions, and the rest of the story.

Bans on food stamps for convicted drug users and using welfare debit cards at strip clubs moving in the House

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Felons convicted of drug possession won’t be able to get food stamps or emergency cash for poor families unless they successfully complete state-approved substance abuse treatment programs and recipients of the cash aid won’t be able to use debit cards at strip joints or gambling locales under two bills approved by a Florida House committee Tuesday morning.

Barring drug abusing convicted felons is already part of federal law restricting who can get food stamps. But the federal government allows states to opt out of the prohibition, which Florida did more than two decades ago.

Both measures are aimed at ensuring that the money going to needy families benefits children, proponents say.

But Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, objected that the bill was “mean-spirited.”

“This bill presumes all poor people have a problem and use dollars in an inappropriate ways, especially those who have been convicted of a drug crime,” said Pafford.

Making sure felons who were convicted of drug possession complete treatment is a good thing, argued Rep. Dennis Baxley, a former state director of the Christian Coalition said at the House Human Services Committee today before the 12-6 vote along party lines in favor of the measure (HB 813). A Senate committee is expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.

“It’s about government not being a codependent,” Baxley, R-Ocala, said, adding that 80 percent of crimes are related to drug abuse. “Anything we can do to help people identify and move away from that is a benefit.”

Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said the changes would bring Florida into line with federal law and mirror what many other states are now doing.

“I’m not sure why the state of Florida passed that law that allowed those individuals to receive food stamps. I guess that was just a different time,” Wilkins said. “I didn’t see any logical reason myself for why Florida has carved that out in today’s time.”

Those who are ineligible for the benefits because of their felony convictions could name someone else to receive the aid on behalf of the children in the family who would otherwise lose out on the food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. But some critics say the requirement that felons complete state-approved drug treatment could be problematic because many of the approved facilities have wait lists and they cost money. Popular recovery programs Alocholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, which are free, would not fulfill the requirements.

A separate, more controversial measure would restrict where those who receive TANF can use state-issued EBT cards. The move was prompted by a television report that found that some recipients of the cash aid – the poorest of the poor, as some Department of Children and Families officials call them – have used the cards at liquor stores, strip clubs and gambling joints. The measure (HB 1401) would prohibit their use at those locations and also stop poor families from using the cards out-of-state.

“Sometimes to do the right thing all people need is a little bit of encouragement,” Baxley said before the 13-4 vote. Rep. Mack Bernard of West Palm Beach split with fellow Democrats on the bill, saying he was troubled to learn the cards had been used at Internet cafés.

That provision could hurt abused women fleeing the state for their safety, objected Pafford, who failed to get the committee to strip the out-of-state provision.

Critics of the proposed policy say limiting where the cards can be used will not have much impact, in part because the cards can be used at ATMs where cash can be spent anywhere.

“It won’t have that big of an impact in terms of restricting individual usage,” Wilkins said. “I think we’ve got to deal with the fraud issue more and more. It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of more and more fraud policies coming down the pike.”

Wilkins said his agency is trying to combat fraud in other ways, including taking steps to verify the identity of people applying for the benefits. Those applications are now done on-line, but Wilkins said he wants to add questions that would screen out imposters. If the questions aren’t answered correctly, applicants would then have to apply in person, Wilkins said.

Bittersweet cupcake amendment fails to move GOP lawmakers

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The state’s neediest families shouldn’t be able to use emergency cash assistance to buy booze, watch strip shows or gamble, most GOP lawmakers agree.

But they’re divided over whether Floridians should be allowed to use food stamps to buy cupcakes, Cokes or candy.

A measure that would impose those prohibitions passed a House committee this afternoon but not before some Republicans on the panel told the bill (HB 1401) sponsor they’d kill the bill if he didn’t trim out the food stamp restrictions, also opposed by retailers, soda companies and convenience store owners.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said he got the message and would consider modifying the measure to get limits on where individuals getting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can use their state-issued debit cards.

Rep. Mark Pafford tried to sweeten the bill with a “cupcake amendment” that would have allowed food stamp users to purchase cakes or cupcakes for birthdays.

“It’s just an exception for a child to celebrate a birthday by having a cake or a cupcake,” Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, explained.

But Plakon wouldn’t swallow.

He said that a birthday cake can cost up to $40 while a cake mix costs just $4. Pafford’s amendment failed.

Rep. Dana Young was on the 8-6 winning side in favor of the bill, but let Plakon know it was the end of the line if he doesn’t make the changes.

“I’m all about good nutrition,” Young, R-Tampa, said. “But I don’t want people to tell me what to eat. And I just don’t think it’s right for us as legislators and as a government to tell anyone what they can eat, even if they happen to be poor. Even if they happen to be on food stamps.”

Chances are it won’t matter whether the lawmakers approve the ban on junk food or not.

The feds would have to sign off on a waiver to impose the restrictions. Several states have applied for the waiver but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied them all.

Democratic senator urges Scott to drop drug-testing court fight

Monday, October 24th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A federal judge Monday temporarily halted drug-testing of Florida welfare recipients, siding with opponents of the new law championed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature.

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven said the testing requirement amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure, chiding state lawmakers for ignoring an “overwhelming body of case law,” when they approved the measure last spring.

The legal challenge was brought by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute, which hailed the judge’s decision.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa,  said Scott and state officials should just abandon efforts to defend the drug-testing policy for applicants for benefits under the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

“Not only is the new law a punishment for being poor, it’s a waste of tax dollars; the overwhelmingly majority of TANF applicants test negative,” Joyner said. “Now, taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars to reimburse these families for a test that exclusively benefits the drug testing industry.”

Since Florida’s new law testing welfare recipients took effect July 1, 7,030 passed, 32 failed and 1,597 did not provide results, according to Florida Department of Children and Families records.

The only other state to implement a similar drug-testing policy, Michigan, had its drug-testing law overturned in 2003 by a federal court.

ACLU sues Scott to overturn drug-testing of welfare recipients

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The ACLU of Florida said Wednesday it has sued the Gov. Rick Scott administration in federal court to overturn the state’s new law requiring mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients.

The lawsuit was filed in Orlando on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando man, Navy veteran and University of Central Florida student. Lebron and his four-year-old son were declared eligible for benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but Lebron refused to take the required drug test and has not received aid.

“It is a public policy that really rests on ugly stereotypes,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU.

Florida’s new law took effect July 1. Since then, the state’s Department of Children & Families reports that about 2.5 percent of applicants have tested positive for drugs and were denied personal benefits, although their family members still qualify.

But in its lawsuit, the ACLU maintains the requirement violates constitutional safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure by the government. The only other state to implement a similar policy, Michigan, had its drug-testing law overturned a decade ago, according to ACLU attorneys.

DCF Secretary David Wilkins, a Scott appointee, is named as defendant in the lawsuit.

The ACLU earlier sued Scott over his executive order requiring drug-testing of all new state hires and random screening of current state employees. Scott suspended the order in May for agencies other than the Department of Corrections, although he insisted the freeze would only be in place until the lawsuit was decided.

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories
Categories
Archives