ALBANY – A bill that would curtail flagrant abuse of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards by prohibiting welfare recipients from using cash assistance to gamble – or buy tobacco, alcoholic beverages and lottery tickets – passed the New York State Senate this week, putting state legislators one step closer to lowering instances of welfare fraud.
The bill, titled the Public Assistance Integrity Act, was brought before the Senate Tuesday, and is now set to be reviewed by the State Assembly. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Senator Tom Libous, aims to completely ban the sale or purchase of alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets with public assistance benefits, and limit where EBT cards can be used and what they are used for.
Under the current benefit system, EBT cards operate similarly to debit cards for welfare recipients. It contains both Food Stamps and cash assistance. Although Food Stamps is strictly regulated to buy certain food items, cash assistance – intended to buy non-food items like soap, toothpaste, school supplies and toiletries – is not. Lack of legislative oversight allows recipients to legally use cash assistance to buy tobacco, lottery tickets and beer, or make ATM withdrawals from certain places, including liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.