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Some on welfare bet big on Maine lottery in pursuit of life-changing win

Maine LotteryMaine Lottery: Some on welfare bet big on Maine lottery in pursuit of life-changing win
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Murky state rules mean those who do collect larger prizes may not even lose their public benefits

Maine residents on public assistance have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lottery tickets, according to an estimate based on the $22.4 million in large prizes they collected between 2010 and 2014, including eight jackpots worth at least $500,000 each.

Yet state rules are so murky that the winnings do not necessarily disqualify anyone from continuing to receive food stamps and other benefits.

The data on winnings comes from a state Department of Health and Human Services memo obtained under Maine's open records act. The agency cross-referenced a list of people who had won a Maine lottery prize of $1,000 or more against a list of people on state benefit programs: food stamps, aid to families and MaineCare. The estimate of total spending on lottery tickets comes from David Just, a behavioral economist and state lottery expert at Cornell University.

"It's pretty clear that there's a lot of money from people on welfare cycling back to the state through the lottery," said Just, whose research in Maine has shown that lottery sales increase with poverty and unemployment. "But the real story here is how much people had to spend in order to win these amounts."

Given the long odds on winning, Just, who has studied lotteries in 39 states, estimates that benefit recipients statewide spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on tickets in order to win $22 million in large prizes. Since 2010, nearly one of every four people who hit jackpots of least $1,000 in the state lottery was receiving government benefits for the poor, according to DHHS data.

According to the memo, the winners were enrolled in at least one of the state's three principal public aid programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly known as food stamps; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF; and MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program. The identities of individual benefit recipients were not disclosed.

Sam Adolphsen, chief operating officer for DHHS, said in most cases there is no law preventing someone who receives public benefits from purchasing a lottery ticket. Nor could he say for certain that lottery winners had been automatically disqualified from benefit rolls.

"Under current rules, it is hypothetically possible to win a million dollars and stay on food stamps," Adolphsen said.

Blame the players or state government?

Officials said a review of the lottery winners — part of a larger effort to ensure compliance with the eligibility rules for all public assistance programs — was underway.

The DHHS memo describes a plan to tighten rules and immediately remove anyone who has won more than $5,000 from the food stamp program. The proposal, which has yet to be announced publicly, is part of a larger effort by the LePage administration to reduce what it sees as waste and abuse in the state's taxpayer-funded welfare system.

In fiscal year 2015, the state and federal government spent an estimated $2.87 billion on the benefit programs for Maine's poor, according to DHHS data. The previous calendar year, nearly 1,000 Mainers on public assistance won $4 million in prizes of $1,000 or more in the state's lottery; winnings for lesser prizes have not been determined, and winnings for 2015 will not be available until next year.

"Taxpayer dollars should be going to the neediest people in the state and absolutely not to subsidize gambling, in any fashion," Adolphsen said. "Even one dollar is too much."

But a key lawmaker said the blame rests with the government.

"I agree we shouldn't allow people on these programs to buy lottery tickets, but this is a problem we created. Our state-funded lottery uses advertising to market itself very effectively," said state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, chair of the legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. "The state is selling something to people that they shouldn't be buying, and then they want to tell people they're bad for buying it?"

"These are very poor people," said Chris Hastedt, policy director at Maine Equal Justice Partners, a group that provides legal aid to the poor. "Most of them have turned to the lottery because they see no other option. They're desperate."

Ambiguous rules on winnings, benefits

The issue is complicated not just by politics, but also by a tangle of complex and sometimes ambiguous laws.

Food stamp recipients aren't allowed to purchase lottery tickets with their benefits, but they can with their own cash. For those on welfare, it is legal to spend cash benefits to gamble in the state-run lottery, but not at a privately run casino. And MaineCare recipients, who receive subsidized health care, can spend their own money freely on the lottery.

"We can't tell people what they can and can't do with money they've earned, but we should be doing everything possible to ensure public money isn't being diverted into things that aren't helping people get out of poverty," said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, the Health and Human Services Committee co-chair.

Those who win must report the prizes to the state. But that doesn't necessarily disqualify the winner from receiving benefits, said Beth Hamm, a 27-year veteran of the eligibility division at DHHS.

"This is where things get complicated," she said. "There is no simple answer."

Although lottery winnings count as income and can put a recipient of public assistance over an income threshold, there are many variations in each program, Hamm said. Those variations — such as when the winnings were received, when they were reported and the status of the recipient — are taken into consideration and could mean lottery winners would not lose their benefits.

"What benefits do you receive?" Hamm said. "What are the lump-sum rules associated with each program? How much did you win? Where's the money now? Is it in a checking account or savings account? Did you spend any of it? How much? What did you buy? Can you verify that? What is your family situation? Are you elderly, blind or disabled?"

Asked whether anyone had ever been removed from the rolls after winning lottery jackpots, Adolphsen did not directly answer the question.

"No one would have been closed solely because they won, but could have potentially been closed if the program rules counted assets and the winning took them over the allowable asset limit," he said.

Changing laws to disqualify winners

In some cases, the state can propose to amend the existing federal laws that govern each program. The LePage administration this year put forth a rule, which will take effect Jan. 1, that disqualifies certain food stamp recipients with assets of more than $5,000, including lottery winnings.

But sometimes the federal guidelines are unclear, state officials said. The 2014 Agricultural Act, for example, requires that households with "substantial" lottery or gambling winnings lose eligibility for food stamps. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to define "substantial," complicating enforcement, Adolphsen said.

"They give lip service to making sure these tax dollars are used only for appropriate purposes, but they don't follow up," he said.

A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said the federal government encourages states to enact their own regulations, although a change in the rules would need to be vetted by federal officials.

Some states have been successful in passing such rules. In New York, a person who wins more than $600 in the lottery must use a portion of the money to repay public assistance received in the past 10 years.

In Michigan, a 2012 law required state officials to begin cross-checking lottery winners against a list of public assistance recipients each week. The following year, the state removed 810 lottery winners from benefit rolls, said Bob Wheaton, a state spokesman.

"That saved taxpayers nearly $2 million," he said.

Minimal oversight of revenue stream

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting obtained the DHHS memo shortly after publishing the results of an investigation that found players buying tickets in Maine's poorest towns spend as much as 200 times more per person on lottery tickets than those living in wealthier areas.

In Washington County, where one in five people receives food stamps, individual lottery players in some towns spent as much as $1,313 annually on the lottery, according to state sales data. By contrast, players in Kennebunkport, a wealthy coastal town where fewer than 1 in 20 people receive food stamps, spent just $6 per person on lottery tickets.

The average annual food stamp benefit in Maine is about $1,249 per person.

The state has never studied the impacts of the lottery or its marketing on Maine's poor and unemployed, despite tripling its in-state advertising budget in the past decade, the investigation showed.

Hastedt, of Maine Equal Justice Partners, said the government encourages poor people to play the lottery, so it shouldn't be surprised when they win.

"The great irony is that the administration is operating a lottery system that expressly targets people living in poverty ... tempting them to dream a little about a better life for themselves and their children," she said. "And now, it targets them ... with shame and penalties for doing just what that state-financed advertising lured them into doing."

After the reporting center's first stories on the lottery, some lawmakers in both major political parties called for closer scrutiny of the $230 million-a-year lottery, including an inquiry into whether the state may be targeting the poor in its advertising.

But for the lottery, which nets more than the state's corporate income tax, less aggressive advertising could mean less money for state coffers — dollars that would otherwise need to be offset by higher taxes or reduced services.

"The lottery is a major revenue stream for the state," said Just, the Cornell researcher. "No one is likely to want to question this too closely."

Portland Press Herald

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16 comments. Last comment 12 months ago by myturn.
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music*'s avatar - nw bookeep.jpg
Happy California
United States
Member #157856
August 2, 2014
1522 Posts
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Posted: December 16, 2015, 10:02 am - IP Logged

 May Amanda Clayton rest in peace in Michigan. On September 11, 2011, she won one million dollars. She did not tell the States' Welfare Department. She was caught and sentenced by a Judge to nine months probation.

 She did have the option to remain anonymous since she did not win a Jackpot prize like Mega Millions or Power Ball. She did the grip and grin photo shoot.

 The press discovered her collecting state welfare money after her win. 

 Twenty-five year old Amanda died from a drug overdose before her nine-month probation was completed. She left two children behind. Lord have mercy on her soul.

 I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better. 

 Attributed to Joe E. Lewis and others

    picktowin's avatar - Lottery-034.jpg
    wisconsin
    United States
    Member #49379
    January 28, 2007
    2356 Posts
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    Posted: December 16, 2015, 7:06 pm - IP Logged

    I think that is totally wrong for people getting  welfare food stamps  to be able to play the lottery.

    I am a taxpayer. I am supporting them.

    Maybe they need to get JOB

    They are out there but so many are to lazy to get one when why I can get free  stuff.

    Maybe they need to feed their kids and put clothes on their backs before pleasure.

      Avatar
      Kentucky
      United States
      Member #32652
      February 14, 2006
      7314 Posts
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      Posted: December 16, 2015, 9:36 pm - IP Logged

      I think that is totally wrong for people getting  welfare food stamps  to be able to play the lottery.

      I am a taxpayer. I am supporting them.

      Maybe they need to get JOB

      They are out there but so many are to lazy to get one when why I can get free  stuff.

      Maybe they need to feed their kids and put clothes on their backs before pleasure.

      It's a tough call because there will be an extra buck or two at the end of the month. And if the win big like Amanda Clayton, they get off welfare by reporting their winnings (unlike Amanda Clayton).

        zephbe's avatar - animal butterfly.jpg
        South Carolina
        United States
        Member #77167
        July 15, 2009
        556 Posts
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        Posted: December 17, 2015, 5:06 am - IP Logged

        This article may shed some light on the subject.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/03/25/maine-gov-paul-lepage-is-on-a-welfare-reform-crusade/

        'Maine’s tea party governor, reared in poverty, is on a mission to reform the state’s welfare system.'

        Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.-Rocky Balboa

        “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of going after yours.” – Zig Ziglar

          savagegoose's avatar - ProfilePho
          adelaide sa
          Australia
          Member #37136
          April 11, 2006
          3300 Posts
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          Posted: December 17, 2015, 6:51 am - IP Logged

          i dunno, there is tax implications on winning  lots of money, maybe there could be some sort of inter departmental notification, of someones  sosec number, when they win a <snip> million bucks? i dunno i would think that sort of thing might be easy to automate,. or is it someone elses job?

          This post has been automatically changed by the Lottery Post computer system to remove inappropriate content and/or spam.

          2014 = -1016; 2015= -1409; 2016 JAN = -106; FEB= -81; MAR= -131; APR= - 87: MAY= -91; JUN= -39; JUL=-134; AUG= -124; SEP = -123; OCT= -84  NOV=- 73 TOT= -3498

          keno historic = -2291 ; 2015= -603; 2016= JAN=-32, FEB= +12 , MAR= -86, APR = -77. MAY= -48, JUN= -29, JUL=-71; AUG = -52; SEPT= -43; OCT = +56 NOV = -33 TOT= -3297

            Tialuvslotto's avatar - Jailin
            Texas
            United States
            Member #150797
            December 31, 2013
            815 Posts
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            Posted: December 17, 2015, 8:07 am - IP Logged

            Part of me cringes to hear this news because those lottery dollars are money that someone on benefits cannot afford to spend.  But, another part of me sympathises because the lottery may be the only way out of poverty that these people can see.

            However, winners of large prizes should definitely be kicked off benefits.

            "There is no such thing as luck; only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe."

            ~Robert A. Heinlein

              sully16's avatar - sharan
              Ringleader
              Michigan
              United States
              Member #81740
              October 28, 2009
              40551 Posts
              Online
              Posted: December 17, 2015, 1:58 pm - IP Logged

              I really wonder how many children went without proper nutrition because their parents decided that lottery tickets, cigarettes, liquor, tattoos, etc, were much more important.

              It makes me sad to think a kid went hungry because of the selfish wants and needs of mommy and daddy.

              Did you exchange a walk on part in the war ?

              For a lead role in a cage?

               

                                                          From Pink Floyd's " Wish you were here"

                hearsetrax's avatar - 0118

                United States
                Member #52345
                May 21, 2007
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                Posted: December 17, 2015, 3:01 pm - IP Logged

                I really wonder how many children went without proper nutrition because their parents decided that lottery tickets, cigarettes, liquor, tattoos, etc, were much more important.

                It makes me sad to think a kid went hungry because of the selfish wants and needs of mommy and daddy.

                one can only wonder and knowing the answer wouldn't surprise me at all

                  HaveABall's avatar - rocket

                  United States
                  Member #72448
                  March 18, 2009
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                  Posted: December 17, 2015, 4:50 pm - IP Logged

                  Ah, I see the remedy ... All we need is far more mainly distracted, $50K/year, full-time, W-2 paid employee jobs (that's $24/hour at guaranteed 40 hours per week work pay and 51 guaranteed weeks per year work, with round-trip commute to work under 60 minutes) for majority of adults over the age of 24 years old and in all U.S. of A. states.

                  Sure, even these fortunate folks (in 2 adult, full-time worker households) won't have much of a net worth after 40 years and probably will have to keep a part-time job until their death; but at least most of these adults have been almost fully distracted and mainly content during those decades.  Yet, I still believe that half will, weekly, be playing all lotteries that have annuitized jackpots of over $15M ... that's simply a pleasurable hobby and investment for someone who realizes that they still have no achieved  financial net-worth.

                  Can I get a 'here, here,' or a witness? Type

                  Having several millions of dollars in my financial accounts means receiving several valuable services each day!

                  Disney

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                    kings mountain
                    United States
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                    November 5, 2011
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                    Posted: December 17, 2015, 6:45 pm - IP Logged

                    Please don't knock people being on welfare and buying lottery tickets. The lottery is aimed at the poor whether you are working or not. It is the poor working class that buys the bulk of the lottery tickets. How many times do you think that poor people trying to GET RICH missed paying a bill or taken good food out of the mouths of thier children because of buying a lottery ticket????  The people who buy the bulk of the tickets have one foot in the unemployment line or the welfare arena.

                      rcbbuckeye's avatar - Lottery-043.jpg
                      Texas
                      United States
                      Member #55889
                      October 23, 2007
                      5611 Posts
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                      Posted: December 17, 2015, 8:01 pm - IP Logged

                      Ah, I see the remedy ... All we need is far more mainly distracted, $50K/year, full-time, W-2 paid employee jobs (that's $24/hour at guaranteed 40 hours per week work pay and 51 guaranteed weeks per year work, with round-trip commute to work under 60 minutes) for majority of adults over the age of 24 years old and in all U.S. of A. states.

                      Sure, even these fortunate folks (in 2 adult, full-time worker households) won't have much of a net worth after 40 years and probably will have to keep a part-time job until their death; but at least most of these adults have been almost fully distracted and mainly content during those decades.  Yet, I still believe that half will, weekly, be playing all lotteries that have annuitized jackpots of over $15M ... that's simply a pleasurable hobby and investment for someone who realizes that they still have no achieved  financial net-worth.

                      Can I get a 'here, here,' or a witness? Type

                      Well, right now, you described me and my wife. We make in the 50's, but for many years we struggled to get by raising the kids, one of us being laid off from work, whatever. So, here we are, her late 50's, me early 60's, making good money. Comfortable. Retirement? What retirement? She has a few investments that may or may not work out. I have nothing. We never made enough to raise a family and put an appreciable amount away to retire on. Our distraction was raising our kids. Imagine that. Oh, and one is still at home and commutes back and forth to college. Another is living in Houston but still relies on Mom and Dad for help from time to time because she isn't able to find that $50K/year job. She can only find part time work. With a college education. Wow. Is this a great country or what? So if someone is on assistance and they win a jackpot. Great.

                      So....my retirement will be either selling furniture until I croak in the middle of the store, or I hit a jackpot. Guess what I'm hoping for?

                      CAN'T WIN IF YOU'RE NOT IN

                      A DOLLAR AND A DREAM (OR $2)

                        mikeintexas's avatar - tx avatar-1.gif
                        Texas Panhandle
                        United States
                        Member #136843
                        December 20, 2012
                        1280 Posts
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                        Posted: December 18, 2015, 6:57 am - IP Logged

                        Well, right now, you described me and my wife. We make in the 50's, but for many years we struggled to get by raising the kids, one of us being laid off from work, whatever. So, here we are, her late 50's, me early 60's, making good money. Comfortable. Retirement? What retirement? She has a few investments that may or may not work out. I have nothing. We never made enough to raise a family and put an appreciable amount away to retire on. Our distraction was raising our kids. Imagine that. Oh, and one is still at home and commutes back and forth to college. Another is living in Houston but still relies on Mom and Dad for help from time to time because she isn't able to find that $50K/year job. She can only find part time work. With a college education. Wow. Is this a great country or what? So if someone is on assistance and they win a jackpot. Great.

                        So....my retirement will be either selling furniture until I croak in the middle of the store, or I hit a jackpot. Guess what I'm hoping for?

                        I hear ya, man.  My situation is a little different, but otherwise close enough to yours.  I'm "lucky" in that I'm the only one I have to worry about and feed. (other than the stray cats who hang around)

                        At this point in time, my retirement plan consists of a jar full of pennies and a lottery ticket good for three more drawings. Wink

                        I don't see how they can, with any success, stop people drawing benefits from playing the lottery.  If someone  was on assistance and won a substantial prize and claiming would cause them to be dropped, they could just get a friend or family member to claim.  If the prize was...oh, say, a thousand bucks, I'm sure they'd rather split it with someone than get the entire thing and lose out on the help.

                        The trouble with "welfare" or similar programs is the waste and fraud.  There will always be waste when uncaring and lazy govt. bureaucrats are in charge and implementing the programs, but it could be reduced simply by holding them more accountable and replacing those who are dead weight.  The fraud is a different matter and there needs to be repercussions more severe than someone simply losing their benefits if they're found to be gaming the system.  I know several people who are drawing disability for "organic brain damage" (meaning drug or alcohol abuse) and are working for cash on the side.   The house next to me is empty, but is in the HUD program (or whatever it's called, the rental assistance) and the landlord is drawing a monthly check for "renting" it out.  (How do I know?  He was bragging about it to another neighbor.) I'm not usually one to "narc" on someone, but I've called the local office and they've ignored my complaints for years.


                        A people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors are not victims...but accomplices.
                         - George Orwell


                          United States
                          Member #106134
                          February 13, 2011
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                          Posted: December 18, 2015, 9:00 am - IP Logged

                          I love to see those on welfare winning the lottery.  Welfare receipients are so oppressed and are very deserving of a lottery win.

                            Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
                            Chief Bottle Washer
                            New Jersey
                            United States
                            Member #1
                            May 31, 2000
                            23273 Posts
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                            Posted: December 18, 2015, 9:14 am - IP Logged

                            I love to see those on welfare winning the lottery.  Welfare receipients are so oppressed and are very deserving of a lottery win.

                            Welfare recipients are oppressed?  Seems to me the exact opposite.  Welfare recipients are helped out by all the US workers who pay taxes, making welfare recipients among the most helped in our compassionate society.

                            As far as people who "deserve" a lottery win, I would say that anyone who pays for a lottery ticket "deserves" to win.

                             

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