Senate passes act to help prevent misuse of welfare funds - NEWS10 ABC: Albany, New York News, Weather, Sports

Senate passes act to help prevent misuse of welfare funds

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ALBANY, N.Y. -  Members of the New York State Senate approved the "Public Assistance Integrity Act" at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Senator Kathleen Marchione co-sponsored the bill with Senator Tom Libous to help prevent the misuse of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards paid for with taxpayer dollars by prohibiting welfare going toward liquor, tobacco, gentlemen clubs, and lottery tickets.

EBT cards work like a debit card for welfare recipients. This card contains both Food Stamps and Cash Assistance. Food Stamps have strict regulations on what can be purchased, Cash Assistance does not. Cash Assistance is intended for items that can't be purchased using food stamps, like soap, toothpaste, school supplies and toiletries.

However, recipients have been found to use this cash assistance to buy cigarettes and beer, or even to fund an afternoon at the racetrack or an evening at a local strip club.

Currently, there are no laws or regulations against using taxpayer dollars for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets or gambling. New York spends over $2.7 billion each year administering Cash Assistance.

If signed into law, the Public Assistance Integrity Act would limit where EBT cards can be used and what they can be used for. Last year, the bill passed the Senate 56-3 but the Assembly didn't act on the bill. The Assembly needs to pass the bill this session or federal aid will be at risk, Senator Libous says.

The federal government has mandated that each state establish a system of fraud prevention in place by February 2014. If the state does not act, the federal government will penalize New York by cutting federal funding for Cash Assistance by 5 percent.

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