Low-income families receiving federal financial assistance would be barred from withdrawing those funds at stores that sell marijuana under a bill approved by a key House committee.
The JOBS for Success Act is a broader piece of welfare reform legislation, but included inside the bill is a provision that would expand the list of federally prohibited services for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients. The language is similar to that of previous standalone bills that have been proposed and one that was introduced earlier this month by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA).
The House Committee On Ways and Means approved the bill in a markup session Thursday by a vote of 22-14. It will now more to the full House before potential Senate consideration.
The cannabis provision would prohibit “cash benefits from being accessed electronically at stores that sell marijuana, amending the current restriction on casinos, liquor stores, and strip clubs,” according to a summary.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said the so-called “needs not weed” provision was another example of the intentional stigmatization of the poor, rather than a practical, fiscal attempt to reform TANF.
Lawmakers who pushed for strip club and dispensary bans for TANF recipients often consider these individuals the “idle poor,” “takers not makers” and “deadbeats,” Doggett said.
“We get a little flavor of that in this bill,” he said, referencing the marijuana provision. He later said “their goal was to stigmatize the disadvantaged” when lawmakers passed the strip club prohibition in 2012.
“Imagine how much good these Republicans would have done if they would have had the foresight to extend that strip show loophole to the White House,” Doggett said. “And with all of the crazy tweets that have been coming out of the White House these days, it certainly feels to me like someone’s been smoking something strange on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The Democratic lawmaker was then scolded by Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) for an alleged personal attack on the president.
The functionality of the provision
The need for the provision is questionable. Records obtained by the National Review in 2014 showed that TANF recipients in Colorado used EBT cards to take out cash at cannabis dispensaries just 64 times, amounting to a total of “$5,475 in public benefits.” Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers moved quickly to impose a statewide ban on the withdrawal of TANF benefits at dispensaries.
And as Americans for Safe Access (ASA) noted when the House voted on a similar bill in 2014, the efficacy of the proposed rule is also dubious.
“Even if passed into law, the value of the legislation would be minimal in terms of blocking the use of public assistance funds for medical marijuana,” ASA wrote. “By preventing the ability of TANF recipients to access funds from ATMs in medical marijuana dispensaries, the practical impact would only harm those with financial hardship and mobility issues, because TANF recipients could still make financial withdrawals from other nearby ATMs.”
See below for the full text of the marijuana provision of the committee-approved legislation:
SEC. 13. WELFARE FOR NEEDS NOT WEED.
(a) PROHIBITION.—Section 408(a)(12)(A) (42 U.S.C. 608(a)(12)(A)) is amended—
(1) by striking ‘‘or’’ at the end of clause (ii);
(2) by striking the period at the end of clause (iii) and inserting ‘‘; or’’; and
(3) by adding at the end the following: ‘‘(iv) any establishment that offers marihuana (as defined in section 102(16) of the Controlled Substances Act) for sale.’’.
(b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by subsection (a) shall take effect on the date that is 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.