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Patrick, Lawmakers At Odds Over Restrictions On Welfare Cards

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent
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Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – A battle is shaping up on Beacon Hill over welfare benefits.

Right now, recipients can use an electronic benefits card (EBT) to get cash and buy whatever they want.

Many lawmakers think that is a bad idea.

But, Governor Deval Patrick disagrees and has rejected tougher restrictions on the use of those cards.

“I think the taxpayer in this difficult economy is looking for a level of accountability,”  Republican Minority Leader Bradley Jones told WBZ-TV.

Jones joined many Democrats in calling for tough restrictions on what the state’s welfare recipients can buy with their welfare EBT cards.

On Sunday, while signing the state budget, Patrick agreed to ban the card’s use in liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment centers, as recommended by a special commission.

But, lawmakers wanted specific products banned like guns and tattoos, wherever they are purchased.

Patrick did not agree, saying that tracking those sales everywhere isn’t realistic.

“I think that the Legislature went a little further than the commission itself said was feasible… in terms of what the technology enables. If they want us to do something we can actually accomplish… then they need to go back to the drawing board and make some minor adjustments,” Patrick said.

Welfare recipients already can’t buy alcohol, tobacco, or lottery tickets with their cards, but there is nothing to prevent them pulling out cash at an ATM and then purchasing those same items.

“I think we should try and get to a system which is cashless, a system which has a delineated list of products,” said Jones.

Jones favors a voucher system, while Patrick seems to favor flexibility for those most vulnerable.

As it stands now, 85-percent of the time, those state welfare cards are used simply to get cash withdrawals, and what that money is spent on is anyone’s guess.

The program cost taxpayers $324 million last year.

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