Under the Dome

House cracks down on food stamp recipients who don’t report lottery winnings

A player fills out his lottery ticket as people come out to buy Powerball lottery tickets at Colony Exxon in North Raleigh as the jackpot grows to $1.5 billion on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
A player fills out his lottery ticket as people come out to buy Powerball lottery tickets at Colony Exxon in North Raleigh as the jackpot grows to $1.5 billion on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. cseward@newsobserver.com

Reacting to what one lawmaker said are food stamp recipients who fail to report their lottery winnings, the state House on Wednesday tentatively passed a bill cracking down on the practice.

House Bill 1047 passed 75-38 with all but four Democrats opposing it. It needs another House vote before going to the Senate.

Rep. Bert Jones, a Republican from Reidsville who sponsored the bill, said the intention was to discourage fraud and to save money, although it is entirely federal money that pays for food stamps. He said other states have uncovered substantial losses.

But in the debate, which stretched over two days on the House floor, Democrats contended the effect would be to kick poor people when they’re down and punish innocent children.

Summing up what he predicted would be the response to the bill, Rep. John Torbett, a Republican from Gaston County, said: “It’s the mean old NCGA once again trying to take food away from needy children.”

“Nobody wants that to happen,” Torbett said.

Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram, said the problem was the lottery itself.

“We created this monster,” Pierce said. “We’ve given people false hope you can win, you can get out of poverty. Now we penalize them for whatever winnings they get.”

After debate on the issue Tuesday, Jones said he decided to amend it so that it affects only the recipient and not the entire household. He said that could have prompted some couples to split up in order to avoid depriving everyone in the house of benefits.

Jones and other GOP legislators resisted an attempt by Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat, to raise the amount of lottery winnings that must be reported to the state Department of Health and Human Services from $2,250 to $5,000.

Under the bill, the Lottery Commission must report winnings of more than $2,250 to DHHS every month so it can check for food stamp recipients and applicants. It is already illegal to fail to report income when applying or re-applying for food stamps.

The bill also increases penalties for failing to comply with food stamp program work requirements.

First violations would result in a three-month suspension for the recipient. Second violations would bring a six-month suspension, and after the third violation it would be a permanent disqualification for food stamps.

The House did go along with Farmer-Butterfield’s amendment requiring DHHS to report how often food stamp recipients don’t report lottery winnings.

“This would help all us understand the connection between lottery winnings and food and nutrition recipients,” she said.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

A previous version of this story incorrectly described the penalties. They pertain to the work requirement, not for failing to report winnings.

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