The New York State Senate today passed the “Public Assistance Integrity Act” to protect public assistance for welfare recipients from being used to purchase cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets or for casino gambling. Unlike Food Stamps purchases, cash assistance purchases are currently permitted under New York State law.
The legislation (S.7671), sponsored by State Senator Thomas W. Libous - the chamber’s Deputy Majority Leader - would also prevent individuals receiving welfare from using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to make ATM withdrawals from certain places, including liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.
“Public assistance is designed to help needy families provide for their children until they can transition back to the workforce and become self-sufficient,” Libous said. “This common-sense legislation would protect hardworking taxpayers from abuse while ensuring that individuals receiving welfare benefits continue to get the temporary assistance they need and deserve.”
Welfare recipients receive both food stamps and cash assistance, which are both frequently administered through the EBT debit card. Cash assistance allows individuals to purchase essential items that cannot be obtained using food stamps, such as paper products and school supplies, and to help defray the cost of housing and energy expenses. However, recipients can also and use this 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.
Libous introduced the legislation in response to numerous complaints from constituents throughout his Senate district, as well a recent television news report which detailed tens of thousands of dollars in misuse of EBT cards in an 11-county area in Upstate New York.
“Obviously, the majority of families and individuals receiving public assistance use their assistance responsibly to help care for their families,” said Libous. “But it’s also evident that abuse does occur. We want to do everything we can to make sure this much-needed assistance goes to help families, not hurt them.”
Several states have already passed legislation to enact restrictions on the use of public assistance funds, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Earlier this year, President Obama signed the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which requires states to limit electronic benefit transactions in locations including liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs by welfare recipients before February 2014. If New York fails to comply, the State will forfeit $120 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds.