President Barack Obama signed a law in February requiring states to put restrictions on how the cash portion of welfare benefits are spent by recipients or lose 5 percent of federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funding.
For New York, that loss would be $125 million next year.
The state Senate has acted already. Legislation has been approved overwhelmingly in the Senate to prohibit welfare recipients from spending their tax-funded benefits on tobacco products, alcohol and lottery tickets. The bill also prohibits them from using their state Electronic Benefits Transfer debit card to get cash at automatic teller machines in casinos and adult-entertainment clubs.
So why is there any question about New York coming into compliance with the federal Law?
Because of the attitude that the restrictions are a slap at the poor.
"It's a prejudice, I think, about poor people that we are seeing represented more than any statistical or study of behavior," Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat and one of the few senators to vote against the measure in the Senate, told the Association Press.
Actually, the law already prohibits the use of food stamps to buy alcohol or tobacco products. But it is allowed under the "cash allowance" contained in the welfare debit cards.
Lawmakers need to keep in mind that the money comes from taxpayers who are struggling under a huge financial burden to pay for government spending. If the restrictions are not enacted and the state loses that $125 million in federal aid, either the state taxpayers will have to pay even more to make up for it or the state would have to cut costs elsewhere.
Yes, they need to balance the unfair financial burden on taxpayers with the rights of people who receive welfare benefits.
But surely some control on how the money is to be used is reasonable.
"I understand that people need food stamps," said Republican Sen. Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican. "What I don't understand is why they need to go to strip clubs, buy lottery tickets, go to a 'racino' or buy alcohol."
Ten other states have already ruled social services money cannot be spent on items ranging from beer to guns.
New York must conform to federal law as well by putting restrictions on spending by social service recipients whose benefits are linked to debit cards.