SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers held off on making a decision about a bill that would prohibit welfare money from being used in casinos, liquor stores or strip clubs.
On Tuesday a House committee adjourned before taking a vote on House Bill 209. The bill comes as a result of the federal government telling the states that if they would like to continue receiving money to help low-income residents, they need to pass legislation putting those restrictions into law.
"We don't want to jeopardize our grant," Rep. Derek Brown, R-Sandy, the sponsor of the legislation, said.
Brown explained that Utah has until February 2014 to put the ban in place, and if the state fails to do so it will lose $88 million from the feds that goes into the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund. Lawmakers on the committee had concerns on how the provisions of the bill were enforced and that the bill does not fully prevent misuse of the funds distributed through the program on government-issued debit cards.
"Nothing prevents them from getting the money and going down and buying drugs," Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, observed.
They also raised the concern that while liquor stores could be electronically tagged on the debit cards to reject the transaction, people could purchase alcohol with their aid money at a grocery store since they also could be purchasing food and other necessary items when at the store.
Representatives with Utah's Department of Workforce Services explained that in Utah 91 percent of the users of the money are single mothers. Geoff Landward, general counsel with DWS, said the law is not being pushed because Utah has a big problem with these issues. It is only because the federal government is requiring the passage of these rules.
"The impetus of this bill is not because we saw a problem, the impetus is because we want to secure the funding," Landward said.
Since no action was taken on the bill it will remain in the hands of the House committee. The committee chair can decide if the legislation will be addressed again.