On Wednesday, the New York state senate approved a bill that prohibits welfare being spent on alcohol, cigarettes, gambling facilities and establishments where "performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state." The legislation would apply to all of New York’s electronic benefit tickets, or EBT.
"What this bill does is help people, because we're going to go after those individuals who defraud the system,” said Republican Sen. Thomas Libous.
The state is considering the measure because it must act in accordance with a law passed in 2012 to get federal funding for public assistance. If the state does not institute protections against welfare being spent on alcohol and cigarettes, the government could face a 5 percent reduction in federal assistance. This amounts to about $120 million.
The legislation is similar to San Francisco’s well-known “Care Not Cash” program. The latter program was a major overhaul for welfare reform, whereby the city provided goods and services rather than money in order to save money. New York’s bill, however, is much more modest in its ambitions.
The current legislation punishes those who spend welfare money on prohibited items by taking them out of public assistance for one month. Two time offenders get three months off and three time offenders are taken out of the system. Retailers are also punished with fines if they are caught selling to welfare recipients.
Opponents of the legislation cite the fact that welfare recipients should be able to use their money as they see fit and the bill deprives convenient stores of revenue. Moreover, many challenge its effectiveness. Welfare recipients might simply supplant the money they receive from welfare for other basic goods and then trade those for alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets and other prohibited items.