Public assistance money in strip clubs? NYS Senate says no

Adult Entertainment Venue in Yonkers, NY. This is one place where people wouldn't be able to use their public cash assistance EBT cards under the new law. Photo: "Nino" Eugene La Pia, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Adult Entertainment Venue in Yonkers, NY. This is one place where people wouldn’t be able to use their public cash assistance EBT cards under the new law. Photo: “Nino” Eugene La Pia, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

As the state legislative session hurtles toward it close, bills aplenty are passing through the legislature (although many others don’t seem like they’re going to make it). The Albany Times-Union’s always-handy Capitol Confidential blog is updating frequently.

Brian Mann also reports that state Sen. Betty Little has been busy pushing through several Adirondack North Country-related bills: on land swaps in the Adirondack Park; and banning the importation of Eurasian swine. Little’s also still working on a bill that would allow Lake Placid’s emergency room to stay open part time.

On a more potentially salacious note, the Senate has voted to pass a bill (S966, for those who are interested) that would prevent people from using EBT cards containing cash assistance money (from SNAP — food stamps — or some other programs) at ATMs in liquor stores, gambling halls, or adult entertainment venues. Apparently this happens to the tune of at least tens of thousands of dollars a year in New York state.

The senate voted 52-10 in favor of the bill. North Country Now reports all three of St. Lawrence County’s state Senators voted yes on the measure (the complete list of who voted how is in the link for S966).

As a person who interestedly checks her grocery receipts to see how much of what she bought would theoretically be eligible for SNAP, I was surprised to see in a press release from Sen. Patty Ritchie, who co-sponsored the bill, that there’s currently no law against this. Here’s the language from the Senate bill itself:

EXISTING LAW: No law exists protecting public assistance cash benefits from being either used to purchase alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets, or withdrawn or used in any liquor store, casino or establishment providing adult-oriented entertainment.

Who knew? Anyway, Here’s what Sen. Ritchie had to say about the bill:

EBT cards are intended to help people who have fallen on hard times afford the necessities.  But, when these cards are used to purchase things like smokes, booze or lottery tickets, it’s a major waste of taxpayer money…This measure would help stop welfare fraud and ensure these benefits are being used the way they are intended.

Those who violate the law would lose cash benefits for a month on the first offense, three months on the second, and permanently on the third. The bill also establishes a fund to contain “monies” gathered from fines and fees associated with the new law. As of Thursday afternoon, the bill is in the Assembly.

On a legislatively related note, the Farm Bill has failed the House of Representatives. David Sommerstein is reporting on this development on The Dirt.

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13 Comments on “Public assistance money in strip clubs? NYS Senate says no”

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  1. I think people on public assistance (that’s means tested, not earned benefits like Social Security) are far too often bashed by the ignorant. But it’s hard to argue with this change. It’s hard to argue that this is a major drain on money all things considered but it’s a loophole that should be closed.

    While they’re at it, they should allow people to use welfare money to buy things like shampoo, toothpaste and soap, which I believe they can’t do now. It’s insane that you can use public assistance money to buy booze and lotto tickets but not personal hygiene products.

  2. dave says:

    I’m guessing this might be one issue we can all agree on.

  3. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Maybe I’m just feeling generous because I’m a few in myself, but I don’t know why people get so worked up about someone on public assistance having a drink.

    This is some feel good, fake fiscal conservative crap that’s going to make life a bit more unpleasant for the poor but will have no effect on anything in the end. Tens of thousands? What little savings it creates will disappear into some new government program in no time. If you’re concerned about the cost of social programs, try to do things to improve the economy so fewer people are on them, rather than putting your boot to the neck of someone whose life is probably pretty unpleasant and could use that beer.

  4. Michael Greer says:

    The “tens of thousands” will be eaten up by the software designers and technicians that will implement the program, and so, there will be no savings. That said, I agree that it’s a loophole that should be closed.
    Folks without much money can legally purchase all the ingredients to make their own brew…for pennies per gallon, and might learn a useful skill in the process. Hobbies can become businesses, and we never know where the next great brewer might come from.

  5. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    This is just another way to make those less fortunate feel like second class citizens. Maybe we should only allow them to shop in separate “gov’t stores”, where the products have been approved by Albany.

  6. Two Cents says:

    couldn’t Budweiser make a food stamp label beer?
    you know some of that watered down stuff they were trying to unload on paying customers?

    [yes paul, sarcasm :) ]

  7. “I don’t know why people get so worked up about someone on public assistance having a drink.”

    If you want to buy them a drink, go right ahead! I simply don’t understand why you can buy strip teases with SNAP but not shampoo or toothpaste. As someone who supports social programs, I find this hard to defend. Support for public assistance is contingent upon it being used for necessities, not luxuries. Most people would consider personal hygiene to be closer to the former and booze the latter. Is that really such an unreasonable position?

    The real problem with this change is that it only changes half of this stupidity and still treats soap like a luxury.

  8. The far right is attacking the legitimacy of all social programs, of the whole concept of “the public.” We who support the concept of the public have to make sure such programs are well-structured or otherwise stupid exceptions like this will make their extremism seem reasonable.

  9. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I agree you should be able to buy soap with SNAP benefits. What I was getting at, although not very clearly, is that there is an attitude out there that people on public assistance shouldn’t be able to buy anything beyond bread and water. I hear it all the time, people complaining about poor people who drink or smoke cigarettes. You read the amendments some of the House Republicans proposed to the Farm Bill? One of them wanted to create a searchable, online federal database of everything bought with SNAP benefits. Now what could be the purpose of that, other than to humiliate the poor and maybe give the GOP ammunition to change the law so you can’t buy chocolate cake, or potato chips, or something else that some wealthy congressman thinks he shouldn’t pay taxes so poor people can eat? I imagine that database would be a costly thing to set up and run, not fiscally conservative really. Others wanted to require drug testing — because only people with office jobs that don’t drug test should be able to use drugs in the privacy of their own homes, I guess. They remind me of characters in Dickens novels, thinking the poor have it too good and we need to make their lives more unpleasant so they don’t get lazy.

  10. dave says:

    I can’t imagine anything more simple to explain…

    If you are taking money out of my wallet, away from my family, to provide someone who has come across hard times with the essentials they need to get by… I am more than fine with it.

    If you are taking money out of my wallet, away from my family, so that a person can stuff dollar bills into a dancer’s thong at a strip club? I’d just assume keep my money, thank you.

  11. The Original Larry says:

    “This is just another way to make those less fortunate feel like second class citizens”

    It has nothing to do with their worth as people or how the more fortunate view them. Do you really think people actually want to make others feel bad? The reality is that, economically, those who do not work for a living and accept assistance from those who do must abide by the rules set by those who provide the money. He who pays the fiddler calls the tune. I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong but I am sure that’s how things work in the real world.

  12. Larry: And the reality is that those who provide the money are not unanimous in how the rules should be set. That’s why we have these debates. Oh and many who are on public assistance DO work… though not for a living because they may not get enough hours and/or a high enough hourly rate to actually make a living through their work.

    Marlo: I agree with you that people are very judgmental. That’s why I have no objection to closing these loopholes in order to preserve support for helping the less fortunate buy real necessities. As long as loopholes like this exist, the far right will portray this as the norm and use it as a cudgel to undermine support for the 99.9% of the program that’s legitimate.

  13. mervel says:

    But we are talking about getting cash out on an ATM in a strip club using their benefits card. The data exists that this is happening. I guess you could make a case that the strippers deserve the tips as they are working hard so in that sense it would still be good for the economy.

    The fact is though I think someone pointed out above, if you are going to let people utilize the EBT as an ATM for cash than you must accept the fact that they are going to spend it on whatever they desire and I don’t know if you can control that without very expensive controls for what in the long run will not be a huge amount of money.

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