ANNAPOLIS – Saying that it discriminated against welfare recipients, members of two state agencies came out Wednesday against a bill proposing that lottery-winning welfare recipients use their prize money to pay off their tab.
The measure would require lottery winners who received welfare in the decade preceding their good fortune to use up to half of their prize to pay back the state.
“I think it’s a perception that we’re singling out welfare recipients, and we don’t want to do that,” Carroll Hynson, spokesman for the state lottery agency, told the Senate Finance Committee.
Lottery officials fear the bill would drive welfare recipients out of the pool of lottery customers. Although Hynson said he could not predict whether his agency would lose money if the bill became law, he said it could.
But bill sponsor Sen. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County, said the bill would produce nothing but winners. “Nobody wants to be on welfare,” he said. “I think they’d be happy to win the lottery and be able to pay some of it back.”
Boozer took the idea from an article in The Wall Street Journal, which described a similar program in New York. Between April and December of last year, that state received notice of 1,360 lottery winners who had received public assistance. New York recovered $1,093,060.
“If we could intercept a small portion of that, I’d be very happy,” Boozer said.
Under Boozer’s proposal, the Department of Human Resources would notify the lottery agency of any winners who had received public assistance within the last 10 years.
The lottery agency would then add up the total cost of the welfare benefits to those winners and require them to use up to half of the jackpot to repay it.
Only disputes over the existence or amount of the welfare benefits would be appealed.
Kevin Mahon, executive director of the state’s Department of Human Resources, opposed the bill because of legal questions.
“We do not think the retroactive conversion of public assistance `grants’ into `loans’ would survive a legal challenge with regard to either the federal or the state portions of those payments,” he said in a letter to Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D- Baltimore County, the committee chairman.
Mahon also said the current automated systems of his department are incapable of producing a 10-year history on individual payments.
Boozer said the time frame is negotiable. “There’s nothing magical about the 10 years,” he said.
Sen. Larry Young, D-Baltimore, leaned back in his chair after hearing Boozer’s presentation and heaved a long sigh.
“Is there a possibility of perception of the welfare recipient as a second-class citizen because of us creating this separate category for them?” Young asked.
Boozer said no, and countered with, “If you take care of me for ten years… and I’m fortunate enough to hit it rich, what’s wrong with me paying back half of the money I’ve won?”
Despite criticism from state agencies, Sen. Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George’s, said he supports the principle behind the bill. “If someone makes money out of the state, they ought to use part of their winnings to pay it back,” Dorman said. “Not all of it, but part of it.” -30-