Welfare ‘vice’ grip
Bill to bar funds for booze, butts, bets
No more sinning on the taxpayers’ dime!
Legislation is being introduced in the state Senate that would bar welfare recipients from using their public assistance money to buy booze or cigarettes or spend money on lottery tickets or in casinos, The Post has learned.
The proposed law also would impose a ban on welfare spending on adult oriented entertainment, such as 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,” said state Sen. Thomas Libous (RBinghamton), the deputy majority leader and bill sponsor.
“This commonsense legislation would protect hardworking taxpayers from abuse while ensuring that individuals receiving welfare benefits continue to get the temporary assistance they need and deserve,” he said.
Recipients who violate the ban would lose benefits for one month for a first time offense and three months for a second. A third strike would permanently boot the offender from the program.
Welfare recipients receive both food stamps and cash assistance for other needs — to help defray the cost of housing, utility expenses and clothing — under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
A family of four could receive a maximum $668 in monthly foodstamp benefits plus $433 in cash assistance benefits.
People who qualify for welfare receive an “electronic benefit transfer” debit card to access their cash assistance.
Currently, recipients can use the card to buy cigarettes and booze or spend an afternoon at the racetrack or strip club.
The Libous measure would specifically bar recipients from using their EBT cards to make withdrawals from ATMs in liquor stores, betting parlors and sex clubs.
The senator first became aware of the issue when three constituents called his office to complain that they had seen welfare recipients at Walmart and liquor stores buying booze and cigarettes.
“They flipped out. They said, ‘Why are people allowed to do this?’ ” Libous said.
As he researched the matter, Libous discovered that a new federal law — the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 — requires states to pass rules to prohibit welfare spending on sin activities by 2014. States that fail to comply would forfeit 5 percent of the welfare funding — $120 million in New York state’s case.
“We need to conform to this law or we’re going to lose $120 million. That’s a lot of money. It’s going to have to be done — though nothing is guaranteed in Albany,” Libous said.
He said he briefed Gov. Cuomo about his bill last week, and that Cuomo promised to review it.
Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Washington have already passed such restrictions.