The state Senate on Tuesday approved legislation that would prohibit welfare recipients from spending their tax-funded benefits on tobacco products, alcohol and lottery tickets.
The Public Assistance Integrity Act also would ban the withdrawal of cash from the Electronic Benefits Transfer card - which is issued by the state to welfare recipients - at automatic teller machines in casinos and adult-entertainment clubs.
While the vote was overwhelmingly in favor, 56-3, the matter did not end without debate.
Some senators said their constituents were surprised the law allowed such spending now - as were we - while others questioned the need for the restrictions.
Sen. Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican, noted the state must restrict spending by recipients whose benefits are linked to debit cards to conform to federal law.
President Barack Obama signed a law in February that will require states to restrict how the cash portion of social services is spent, or lose 5 percent of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funding. New York risks losing $125 million if restrictions are not put in place, Libous said.
State representatives need to keep in mind state taxpayers' financial burden is too large already. If the state were to lose the $125 million, either the state taxpayers would have to cover it or the state would have to cut costs elsewhere. The last thing lawmakers need to do is add to taxpayers' burden by creating a hole in the state budget.
The best course of action for state legislators would be to comply with the federal guidelines.