Monthly Column: Stop welfare benefits for cigarettes, beer, lotto tickets…


By: Michael H. Ranzenhofer


During the 2013 Legislative Session, the New York State Senate approved a bill– entitled the Public Assistance Integrity Act– to protect your tax dollars by prohibiting welfare benefits from being spent on beer, lotto tickets and other non-essential items.


Over the years, abuse of public assistance has been well documented.  Earlier this year, the New York Post concluded, after analyzing records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, that cash assistance was being misused all too often.  


The Public Assistance Integrity Act (S.966) would curb the abuse of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards by prohibiting welfare recipients from using cash assistance to purchase tobacco products, alcoholic beverages and lottery tickets, or to use EBT cards for cash withdrawals at liquor stores and casinos.  


EBT cards work like a debit card for welfare recipients.  These cards contain both a Food Stamp and Cash Assistance component.  Strict regulations guide what can be purchased with Food Stamps.  Cash assistance is intended to pay for other essential items not covered by Food Stamps, such as soap, toothpaste, school supplies and toiletries.  Unlike Food Stamps, there are no restrictions on the use of cash assistance.


As your State Senator, I believe that taxpayer dollars should be spent responsibly.  I also believe that public assistance should not be used to purchase such non-essential items as alcohol and cigarettes.  Rather, it should be used to help residents get back on their feet while transitioning from one job to another.  While New Yorkers have always been willing to lend a helping hand to those in need, we don’t like seeing taxpayer money being wasted.


As a co-sponsor of this legislation, I was proud to vote for this measure in the State Senate.  It passed the State Senate on June 18th  by a vote of 52 to 10.  However, since the State Assembly did not take any action on the bill, our job is not yet done.  


That is why I am launching a new online petition to encourage the State Assembly to take final action on the Public Assistance Integrity Act.  If you think that public assistance should not be used for cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets, then I hope that you will make your voice heard by signing my online petition at


If the State Assembly does not pass this bill, then federal aid received by New York may be at risk.  The Federal government has mandated each state implement a fraud prevention system.  If our State does not meet this requirement by February of next year, then the New York’s federal funding for cash assistance could be cut by 5 percent or $120 million.


I encourage residents to make their voice heard by joining my efforts to encourage the State Assembly to pass the Public Assistance Integrity Act.  To sign my online petition, visit


Senator Ranzenhofer's monthly column appeared in the Amherst and Clarence Bee on October 16.