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Alabama Republicans: Preserve welfare for needs, not weed

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

WASHINGTON — In 2011, the U.S. House and Senate both passed a bill that granted the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to prohibit welfare beneficiaries from withdrawing their cash benefits at vice institutions, such as liquor stores, strip clubs, and casinos.

In April of this year, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was the first to recognize that marijuana users were taking advantage of a loophole in the law to purchase the drug. Sessions immediately wrote a letter to then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging her agency to prohibit the activity.

However, in spite of HHS’s recent history of using its discretion to interpret ObamaCare however it saw fit, the new HHS secretary claimed that her agency could not interpret the aforementioned law to include marijuana stores.

“The federal government current spends roughly $750 billion each year on means-tested welfare programs across 80 different accounts,” Sessions replied. “This money is administered by a vast, sprawling bureaucracy with little oversight and no moral vision. Surely we can all agree that the guiding principle ought to be that benefits are reserved for those in real need.

“In recognition of this common-sense objective, Congress has already passed a law which states that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits may not be withdrawn from certain places like liquor stores. But I was surprised to learn that HHS says it ‘has no authority to prescribe policies and practices… to prohibit the use of TANF benefit cards at marijuana stores.’”

This week, the Republican-controlled U.S. House moved to patch the loophole by passing the “Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act.”

The bill passed the House on a voice vote and received the support of all of Alabama’s Republican congressional delegation.

If passed into law, the Act would simply stop people from using welfare debit cards to make purchases at stores that sell marijuana, and also prevent them from withdrawing cash from ATMs at those businesses. It would be limited, though, because marijuana users would still be able to withdraw cash from another ATM and use the money to buy weed elsewhere.

Sessions has pledged to introduce a similar bill in the Senate, but it is unlikely to pass this year due to the Democratic majority and the short time left in this year’s session.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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