A bill passed by the New York Senate would prohibit welfare recipients from spending their benefits on alcohol and cigarettes. The bill, which passed 56-3, also bans spending of benefits on gambling and strip clubs.
In February, President Obama signed a law that requires states to restrict how the cash portion of social services is spent, or else they will lose 5 percent of funding for the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. In 2013, New York will risk losing $125 million, The Wall Street Journal reports. Republican Senator Thomas Libous, sponsor of the bill, said the state must restrict spending by welfare recipients whose benefits are linked to debit cards, in order to conform with the new federal law.
The “Public Assistance Integrity Act” also would ban the withdrawal of cash from Electronic Benefits Transfer cards at automatic teller machines (ATMs) in casinos, liquor stores and adult entertainment clubs and bars. The article notes that prohibiting the purchase of tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets would be difficult to enforce. The ban on cash withdrawals would be easier to enforce because of its paper trail.
Senator Bill Perkins, one of the few senators to vote against the measure, said it unfairly targets the poor. “It’s a prejudice, I think, about poor people that we are seeing represented more than any statistical or study of behavior,” he said. “If they have evidence that there’s a rash of that, I’d like to see it.” He said the bill wouldn’t allow a poor mother to withdraw money to buy milk if she used an ATM in a banned establishment.
Other states have banned welfare recipients’ spending on certain items, including alcohol, tobacco, guns, gambling, lottery tickets and adult entertainment.
The bill now goes to the state Assembly.