OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Wednesday Governor Chris Gregoire signed a package of reforms to Washington state's welfare programs.
The new law targets people committing "Their Crime on Your Dime," born from a series of stories by the KING 5 Investigators.
About 70,000 of Washington's neediest residents receive their cash welfare benefits on EBT cards. But there were no laws preventing owners from using the card at strip clubs, bars, to bail criminal suspects out of jail, or even to buy tattoos.
But Wednesday, Gov. Gregoire signed a law to change that. The law not only makes the use of welfare cash at adult establishments illegal, but requires those types of businesses to car the cards from their registers and ATMs.
The new law follows KING 5 investigations that showed at least 13,000 welfare clients withdrew $2 million from ATMs in Washington casinos, even though gambling with that money is illegal.
"Those who are cheating the system are hurting everybody that is eligible," Gregoire said. "It's time we stopped the cheating. I want to send a message to those who are so inclined - 'Don't' go there.'"
The Department of Social Health and Services is already overhauling its fraud unit after similar stories by the KING 5 Investigators revealed widespread abuse of food stamps as well.
The new fraud unit will cost about $5 million. The Senate bill requires the money to come from a state auditor's fund that is supposed to be used specifically to audit government agencies. Gregoire had said she opposes robbing that fund to pay another, but the Legislature tied her hands.
"While I disagree I did not feel we could eliminate the fraud unit at this point," she said.
Gregoire said she will encourage the Legislature to change the funding next session.
The bill's sponsors were also upset by another veto Gregoire signed. She eliminated an ombudsman post that would have been a watchdog over DSHS. Gregoire called it unnecessary.