Public Assistance Integrity Act Passes Senate

ALBANY, 06/18/13 – 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.  

“Public assistance is meant to provide essentials for families and individuals in need.  It is not a discretionary slush fund,” said Senator Seward.  “While most people who receive this assistance use it for its intended purpose, there are others who abuse the system and they need to 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 commonsense legislation will end a practice I hear complaints about far too often, and ensure that funding is available for those who truly need help making ends meet,” Seward added.  

The federal government has mandated that each state establish a system of fraud prevention by February 2014.  If New York fails to comply, the state will forfeit $120 million in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds.   

“New Yorkers are compassionate and want to help those in need provide for their families.  What they don’t want is to see tax dollars spent for someone’s illegal drug habit, or to buy drinks at the corner bar.  This measure will help stop abuse of our public assistance system,” Seward concluded. 

The bill passed the senate by a vote of 51-9 and will be sent to the assembly.