For the third year in a row, the state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to keep Electronic Benefits Transfer cards from being used at strip clubs, liquor stores and casinos.
The bill, known as the Public Assistance Integrity Act, passed in an (unofficial) vote of 53-4.
Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, the longtime sponsor of the legislation, said the bill is meant to tackle fraud in the state’s welfare system. The bill would install penalties for those caught using their EBT cards at prohibited places or ATMs located on site, while strip clubs and liquor stores that accept the cards would also be penalized.
“The intent of the cash benefit is to provide for families that need assistance to get back on their feet, to buy diapers for children, to buy aspirin, to buy toothpaste,” Libous said on the Senate floor. “Not to be used on a strip club or to buy cigarettes or beer.”
The issue has fiscal implications for the state. In order to comply with a 2012 federal law, New York and other states face a Feb. 22 deadline to take action to restrict welfare fraud or lose 5 percent of federal benefits grants — which could total $120 million in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed his own plan in his budget proposal last month, but Libous said he doesn’t believe it goes far enough. Libous’ bill would restrict EBT cards from purchasing cigarettes and alcohol at grocery stores; Cuomo’s plan would not.
Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, Westchester County, was one of four senators to vote against the bill. She said she had concerns about punishing children if the parent’s benefits are cut.
“I listen particularly to the last three speakers, who talk about this bill will protect children,” Hassell-Thompson said. “And yet, there’s nothing in the language that says it will protect children. If the parents expend inappropriately, there’s nothing in here that says that the money should go for children will in fact be given to a secondary person in order to ensure that happens.”
Here’s Libous discussing the bill at a Capitol news conference: