State limits use of welfare recipients’ debit cards


California welfare recipients will no longer be able to use their state-issued debit cards at medical marijuana shops, psychics, massage parlors and many other businesses whose services have been deemed “inconsistent” with the goals of the program.

The Schwarzenegger administration sent a letter to county welfare directors Monday announcing that ATMs and point-of-sale card readers in such business will be removed from the network that accepts California’s Electronic Benefits Transfer cards.

The letter said the cards, which allow access to cash meant to help families pay rent and clothe their children, also will no longer work at bail bond establishments, bingo halls, gun shops, bars, race tracks, smoking shops, tattoo parlors and on cruise ships.


Reached late Monday afternoon, Department of Social Services spokesman Michael Weston could not say how much welfare money had been spent at or withdrawn from businesses subject to the new ban. He also would not elaborate on how those businesses were chosen. The letter said simply that the businesses are “inconsistent with the intent” of the program.

In June, Schwarzenegger eliminated casinos and poker rooms from the network after The Times reported that more than half of the licensed gambling establishments in California had ATMs that accepted the cards.

The casinos were listed on a Department of Social Services website that allows welfare recipients to search for addresses of ATMs where they can withdraw cash provided under the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program.

Last month, Schwarzenegger ordered casinos outside of California removed from the network after The Times reported more than $69 million in welfare benefits had been accessed from machines outside of the state since 2007, including nearly $12 million in Las Vegas.

About $1.5 million had been spent or withdrawn in Florida, state records show. More than $16,000 had been accessed on cruise ships, including several that sail primarily from Miami.

Debit cards replaced traditional welfare checks and food stamps in 2000. The cards not only make it easier to distribute and track benefits, they also help reduce the stigma associated with being on public assistance because they look like any other bank card.