On Tuesday, the New York State Senate passed a bill 56 to 3 forbidding welfare recipients from spending their benefits on cigarettes, gambling, alcohol and strip clubs.
Ten other states have limited social services spending on such items as alcohol and firearms.
A federal law passed earlier this year requires states to restrict cash spending of social services benefits or forfeit 5 percent of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds failure to comply could mean a $125 million loss next year for New York.
Sponsor of the New York bill, state Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Broome County, said the state must limit spending by recipients whose benefits are linked to special debit cards. He proposes a ban on withdrawing cash from the Electronic Benefits Transfer card at ATMs in certain establishments liquor stores, casinos, adult entertainment bars and the like.
Welfare recipients in New York receive the EBT cards with cash benefits. Although the law prohibits people from using food stamps to buy alcohol or tobacco, such purchases are possible under the cash allowance in the cards, the Associated Press reports.
Welfare benefits are meant to supply basic needs for individuals and families who are struggling. It makes sense for government to oversee welfare spending to some extent. And New York certainly does not want to lose funding for failure to comply with federal law.
But enforcing these restrictions may prove difficult. Care must be taken not to deprive truly needy people due to excessive enforcement of spending limits. It will be interesting to see how the Assembly handles the issue.