Local representatives vote to keep Link as is
Kristen McQueary firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5972 April 13, 2011 6:00PM
The Illinois House voted Tuesday, April 12, 2011, to order a study on how expensive it would be to put photos on the ATM-like cards used for food stamps and cash assistance. | AP
Voting ‘no’ to Link study:
Dan Burke (D-Chicago)
Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park)
Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago)
Monique Davis (D-Chicago)
Will Davis (D-Homewood)
Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights)
Lisa Dugan (D-Bradley)
Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago)
Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park)
Michael Zalewski (D-Chicago)
(Al Riley, excused absence)
Updated: November 24, 2011 3:34AM
I’m going to give the 10 Southland opponents of House Bill 161 the benefit of the doubt.
They voted against legislation Tuesday aimed at fighting fraud in the state’s food stamp program, which is distributed on plastic Link cards.
Obviously, those 14 legislators haven’t heard from many of you, as I have, about abuses in the system.
Several columns I wrote on the subject spurred dozens of emails, letters and phone calls from readers with firsthand knowledge of the broken system.
I heard from grocery clerks, gas station attendants, state workers, sales associates and even cardholders themselves who described numerous loopholes within the Link program.
The bill that passed the House 64-48, without the support of 14 area lawmakers, requires the Department of Human Services to study options for placing photos on Link cards. That way, cardholders can’t trade them or sell them for cash, which is one of the problems. Currently, the cards can be transferred to whomever.
The system is designed to help families meet their nutritional needs and supplement their incomes, not sustain a black market.
I’m going to presume the Southland lawmakers who didn’t support the bill — which merely authorized a study — were ill-informed and unaware of widespread abuses. The list of Southland lawmakers who voted against the measure is included here so you can enlighten them, as you did me.
Formerly called food stamps, money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program loaded by the government onto Link cards allows shoppers to purchase groceries. Users are not supposed to spend the money for tobacco, alcohol, hot deli items, lunch-counter dining, vitamins, medicine, pet food or kitchen items, such as aluminum foil.
But there’s a loophole. Link cards have two purses. The cards also serve as the federal government’s vehicle for cash assistance, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That money is supposed to go toward basic necessities.
But it is as good as cash. So after buying groceries, cardholders can withdraw the second program’s cash from an ATM and then buy whatever they want.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) that died in a Senate subcommittee would have required the state to add photo identification to Link cards.
McCarter’s bill arose from a case near his downstate district in which a convenience store owner got caught buying Link cards from cardholders for less than what they were worth. The cardholders needed cash, and the store owner then used the Link cards at other retailers to restock his store.
Based on the anecdotal evidence I gathered from readers, that scenario is not isolated. Retailers scam the system, too.
“This issue should have come from the (Department of Human Services), and instead we’re sitting here having to ask them to do something about it,” McCarter told me. “They think because it’s federal money we should just ignore fraud. Bureaucrats don’t like change, and they’re typically not that innovative, and so we’re going to have to help them get into the 21st century and insist they change.”
McCarter’s idea got watered down in a House bill that simply requires the Department of Human Services to study the idea of adding photos to Link cards during the next six months.
Seems like a no-brainer, but opponents managed to frame the debate as a costly, mean-spirited attempt to humiliate poor people. State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) accused bill supporters of “picking on poor people.”
We all know that’s bull, but the theatrics managed to persuade many Democrats to vote against requiring a study.
Only three Southland Democrats voted for it: Emily McAsey, of Lockport; Jack McGuire, of Joliet; and Bob Rita, of Blue Island. State Rep. Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox) also voted for the study.
The rest of our Southland lawmakers voted against the measure, declining an opportunity to infuse more accountability into taxpayer-supported programs. That’s unfortunate.
Luckily, the bill passed anyway.