‘It’s Not Their Money!’: NY Senate Votes to Ban Use of EBT Funds for Tobacco, Lap Dances

Posted: Feb 05, 2014 11:35 AM

Editor's Note: This post has been updated.

New York State Senators have voted to ban the withdrawal of EBT funds in casinos, liquor stores and strip clubs after a passionate debate Tuesday in Albany.

The legislation in question:

The "Public Assistance Integrity Act," which passed 53-4, would prohibit people on welfare and other public help programs from using their "electronic benefits transfer" [EBT] card at ATMs in liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs. It would also limit people from using cash obtained through public assistance to buy alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

Those caught using their public assistance for any of the above circumstances more than three times will have it revoked for a lifetime, according to the proposed act.

It seems like common sense, doesn’t it? The state senators certainly thought so. Here's part of Republican Sen. William J. Larkin, Jr.’s plea urging for responsibility and accountability among those using federal assistance:

“It is not 'their money'! It’s the money of the taxpayers. […] Those who take this and abuse it, don’t deserve to get it [...] “Why should I pay for someone to go to a nightclub or strip club. You wanna do that, find your own money. Don’t use mine or my constituents tax dollars.”

Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, also a Republican, had a similar argument:

“That money is supposed to be used for heat, paper products. It should not be used for booze, lottery tickets, booze or gambling."

The senators voted in favor of the Public Assistance Integrity Act overwhelmingly 53-4. Perhaps these politicians’ passion is at the boiling point because this is the third time they have tried to get the legislation passed. Although it has managed to get past their chamber, the act has repeatedly died in the New York State Assembly. For that, they can thank Democrat Sheldon Silver, who never took up a vote. This year, however, the stakes are a bit higher:

The state could lose $122 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money for failing to create a policy to prevent people on public assistance from accessing benefits at casinos or liquor stores.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed reforms of his own in his 2014-2015 executive budget. His version, however, would not punish people on public assistance based on what they buy and the penalties he’s proposing are less severe.

The problem with Cuomo’s proposal is that it gives welfare abusers a slap on the wrist and that’s it. If the penalties aren’t strict, what’s the point of them? The senators’ reforms on the other hand, offer much needed accountability.

I’m sure it would put many responsible taxpayers’ minds at ease to know welfare recipients aren't wasting money on blackjack.