The great California benefits scandal: More than $69m in handouts frittered away in Vegas, Hawaii and Disney World
By David Gardner
Last updated at 10:47 PM on 4th October 2010
Millions of dollars of California welfare handouts have been frittered away on gambling sprees in Las Vegas, expensive sunshine holidays in Hawaii and at Disney World in Florida.
More than $69 million in benefits meant to clothe and feed needy families was spent outside California in recent years, making a mockery of the state’s attempts to help the poor.
The scale of the scandal revealed in today’s Los Angeles Times has stunned state officials who are fighting to preserve vital services in the face of drastic budget cuts.
According to data obtained by the Times from the California Department of Social Services, state-issued aid cards have been used at hotels, shops, restaurants, ATM machines and other places in 49 other states, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.
By far the most popular destination for benefit spenders was Las Vegas, where nearly $12 million of cash was accessed from the aid cards over the past three years.
To qualify for welfare, recipients must prove they are desperate for help to pay for necessities like food and shelter.
A single parent with two children must usually earn less than $14,436 a year to qualify for assistance, said a social services official.
‘How they can go somewhere like Hawaii and be legit on aid - they can’t. This is money for basic subsistence needs,’ said Robert Hollenbeck, a fraud investigator for the Fresno County district attorney’s office.
The nearly $387,908 accessed in Hawaii was spread through all the major islands, from $234,000 in Oahu, $70,626 on Maui, $39,883 on Hawaii and $22,170 on Kauai.
More than $3,000 was spent at gift shops next to Jimmy Buffet’s Beachcomber restaurant at Waikiki Beach and $2,146 was taken from an ATM on Lanai, a small, exclusive island which is home to two Four Seasons resorts.
‘If it’s on Lana, that should trigger an investigation. California taxpayers who are struggling to keep their own jobs are subsidizing other people’s vacations. That’s absurd,’ Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, told the Times.
Of the $11.8 million accessed in Las Vegas, more than $1 million was spent or withdrawn at hotels and casinos around the neon-lit Strip.
California welfare scandal: $69million in benefits spent in Vegas, Hawaii and Disney World | Mail Online