NY seeks to stop use of welfare cash on smokes, slots and strippers

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New York faces a federal deadline to prohibit the use of welfare cash for liquor, cigarettes, lottery tickets and strip clubs or lose $125 million as a penalty.

"We're not taking anything away from anyone," said state Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton). He announced his new bill Tuesday. "The card is given to people to provide an opportunity . . . the opportunity to get back on their feet."

Republican senators cited media reports that reflected eye-popping incidents such as spending at resorts, but a relatively small amount of overall abuse.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has included a provision in his budget proposal to bar EBT card withdrawals at cash machines in liquor stores, beer wholesalers, casinos, race tracks, video slot machine centers and strip clubs.

Senate Republicans Tuesday introduced their bill, which would further prohibit use of the welfare cash at bars and prohibit the purchase of alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets at supermarkets. The bill sponsored by Libous also includes stiffer penalties, including suspension of benefits for an abuser and sanctions against stores.

The proposal by Senate Republicans has failed to pass in the Assembly the last two years.

"We think it can be done administratively and we'll also review the governor's proposal," said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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One of the concerns is how a measure could be enforced. Cuomo's bill prohibits withdrawals from certain facilities such as video slot machine centers, but Libous noted that wouldn't stop an abuser from withdrawing cash at a supermarket and using it for gambling or at a bar.

Libous said 95 percent of supermarkets and other stores have the technology to stop a sale using an EBT card on liquor, cigarettes and other items the bill would prohibit.

"Will it be foolproof? No," Libous told reporters. "But it will be a lot less easy than it is now."

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