By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York State residents on public assistance should not be able to use their benefit cards to buy “frivolous” things like cigarettes and liquor, according to state Sen. Marty Golden, who is applauding the passage of a bill aimed at cracking down on the recipients by banning certain purchases with taxpayer provided funds.
“For too long, people have abused the welfare system to make unnecessary and frivolous purchases at the expense of not only the taxpayer, but those who rely on these programs to support their families,” Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said.
Earlier this month, the New York State Senate passed the Public Assistance Integrity Act, a bill co-sponsored by Golden, that bans people on public assistance from using their benefit cards to buy cigarettes, liquor or lottery tickets. It would also prohibit recipients from using the cards in casinos or strip clubs.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the senate, 53-4.
Syracuse.com reported that under the legislation, residents caught three times making banned purchases could get their public benefits revoked for the rest of their lives.
The bill has been sent to the New York State Assembly for consideration. It’s not clear, however, if the legislation has any support in that chamber.
Golden, who called the bill “vital legislation,” said it would bring more accountability and stricter guidelines on the use of welfare benefits in the state.
“There is no reasonable justification for allowing people to purchase liquor, cigarettes, or use these funds at casinos. The purpose of this program is to help those in need provide food, clothing, and other necessities to live. There are even some folks who have been using these funds at strip clubs, allowing tax payer dollars to pay for what I believe to be a business that promotes the objectification and degradation of women throughout our city and state,” Golden said.
The legislation would also prevent individuals receiving welfare from using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to make ATM withdrawals from certain places, such as liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.
“It is in our DNA as New Yorkers to help those in need, and that is what public assistance is designed to do,” said state Sen. James Seward (R-C-Oneonta), who also co-sponsored the bill. “Most families and individuals who receive benefits spend the funds on essentials and to help make ends meet. Unfortunately, there are others who exploit the system – forgoing food and clothing for liquor and lap dances. This abuse of public dollars must be stopped.”
Welfare recipients receive both food stamps and cash assistance, which are administered through the EBT debit card. Food stamps have strict regulations on what can be purchased, but cash assistance does not, the bill’s supporter said. Cash assistance allows individuals to purchase essential items that cannot be obtained using food stamps. Recipients can also use cash assistance to buy cigarettes and beer, or even to fund an afternoon at the race track or an evening at a local strip club, Seward said.
“Legitimate expenses like housing, utilities, or school supplies for children should be permitted through public assistance, paying for a booze-fueled night on the town should not,” Seward said.
The time is right to enact a welfare crackdown in the state, according to the bill’s supporters, who said the state could lose federal dollars if it fails to take action.
The federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires states to establish a system of fraud prevention. If New York fails to comply, the state will forfeit $122 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds, officials said.