Public Assistance Integrity Act Overwhelmingly Approved By Senate

February 04, 2014

ALBANY, 02/04/14 – The New York State Senate today passed the “Public Assistance Integrity Act” to crack down on welfare fraud and prohibit welfare recipients from using cash assistance for the purchase of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets or for casino gambling. 

The legislation (S.966), co-sponsored by Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I-Oneonta) would also prevent individuals receiving welfare from using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to make ATM withdrawals from certain places, including 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 Senator Seward. “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 both frequently administered through the EBT debit card. Food stamps have strict regulations on what can be purchased; cash assistance does not. Cash assistance allows individuals to purchase essential items that cannot be obtained using food stamps. However, 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.

“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. This marks the third straight year the senate has passed this commonsense legislation to end a practice I hear complaints about far too often,” Seward added. ”

The federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires states to establish a system of fraud prevention by February 2014. If New York fails to comply, the state will forfeit $122 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds.

“While I am pleased the governor has turned his attention to this issue, calling for a solution during his state budget presentation, his proposal comes up short. I am hopeful that the assembly will finally realize the need for this legislation and join in ending this egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars, while protecting funding for those most in need,” Seward concluded.

The bill passed the senate by a vote of 53-4 and will be sent to the assembly.