Wilt’s TANF Bill Helpless In Senate

Legislation Would Have Eliminated Check Payments

Posted: February 27, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, received support from his Valley representatives in the Senate on Tuesday, but it wasn’t enough to save his bill to eliminate checks as a way to distribute temporary federal benefits.

By a voice vote on the Senate floor, the chamber referred Wilt’s bill to the Senate Finance Committee, killing it for the 2014 session.

“We just don’t have this thing right yet,” said Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian.

The bill, which unanimously passed the House of Delegates, seeks to eliminate a check payment option as a way of distributing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds — leaving direct deposit and debit cards as the only two ways to get benefits.

TANF is a federal program providing monthly funds to needy families with children for up to five years.

Senators who oppose the bill cited concerns about recipients not having a checking account, fees attached to using ATMs and, in the case of rural Virginia, the need to drive a long distance to reach a machine.

“This just isn’t workable for people who live in rural areas,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath.

Sens. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, defended the bill on the Senate floor. Obenshain said recipients also must pay a fee to cash a check at a commercial check-cashing service.

Direct deposit is a “sound alternative” to debit cards, he added.

Hanger offered his support by explaining why Wilt proposed the bill: to cut down on fraudulent use of benefits. Checks can be converted into cash with “no accountability” for it, the senator said.

Last year, Wilt carried a measure that became law that prohibits people who obtain benefits from buying such items as alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, tattoos and piercings. He has called it a “good starting point,” but wanted to add to it with this year’s legislation.

The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee approved this year’s bill by an 8-6 vote. However, on the floor Tuesday, Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, said his approval at the committee level was a mistake, noting not everyone lives close to an ATM.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com

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