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Governor wants to ban use of welfare cards at strip clubs, liquor stores & casinos

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Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for a ban on the use of welfare cash cards at strip clubs, liquor stores and in casinos.

New York State Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo says it's about time a ban be proposed. 

"I'm happy to see that the Governor is talking about moving that forward," said Grisanti. "That is fraud and abuse of taxpayers money."

Grisanti is a  co-sponsor of the Public Assistance Integrity Act.  It which has passed the Senate for several years, only to die in the Assembly.

"We passed that two years in a row and that bill says exactly that you can't use your benefit card to go ahead and pay for lottery tickets, use it in strip clubs, use the card at the casino," said Grisanti.

But now, Albany is running up against a hard deadline from Washington to install an anti-fraud rule like this or potentially lose up to $120-million in aid and the governor is backing the ban.

State Assemblyman Ray Walter said there's no excuse for not already having this ban.

"The entire waste, fraud and abuse that goes on in the public assistance area,  we're in the billions of dollars. This is certainly a component of that. New Yorkers are a charitable people but let's not abuse that charity. And, I think this is something that is a competent proposal to rein in some of that abuse," said Walter.

Grisanti said Albany has let this situation slide a little and now it has to be done this year. 

Hard numbers seem difficult to put together, but it's generally agreed the EBT cards are used in casinos and strip clubs and are used to buy alcohol and tobacco products when they are supposed to be used for things like milk for kids and food.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office said he's looking at the governor's proposal.

Grisanti called the failure of the bill gaining any attention in the Assembly as "epitome of something being political."

Grisanti noted the cards are set up to help people that are struggling as a short term solution to get them back on their feet. 

Under the law, the punishment would become progressively more harsh if the cards are misused and a gambling operation could have its license lifted and strip clubs would also pay progressively higher fines.


Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.