NY Seeks to Block Welfare "Sin Spending"
Is it fair to bar welfare recipients from spending benefits on booze, cigs or strip clubs?
Welfare in New York could soon go vice-free. The state senate has voted overwhelmingly in favor of prohibiting welfare recipients from spending their tax-funded benefits on alcohol, cigarettes, strip clubs and gambling—joining 10 other states which have adopted similar measures. The "Public Assistance Integrity Act," put forward by Republican Sen. Thomas Libous, specifically targets the purchase of tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets, but also proposes a ban on cash withdrawals from the Electronic Benefits Transfer card at ATMs in liquor stores, casinos, and adult entertainment bars and clubs. Part of the bill also involves conforming to federal law: President Obama signed a law last February that threatens states with losing five percent of their Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funding if they don't restrict how the cash portion of social services is spent—New York could lose $125 million in total. "I understand that people need food stamps," says Libous. "What I don't understand is why they need to go to strip clubs, buy lottery tickets, go to a 'racino' or buy alcohol." Indeed. However, critics accuse the bill of spreading stereotypical notions of irresponsible food-stamp users. "It's a prejudice, I think, about poor people that we are seeing represented more than any statistical study of behavior," says Sen. Bill Perkins, who voted against the measure. "If they have evidence that there's a rash of that, I'd like to see it."