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Ranzenhofer launches petition drive against benefit cards being used to buy booze, lottery tickets

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer has started a new campaign to protect taxpayer dollars by launching a petition drive to encourage the State Assembly to pass a bill that would prohibit Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards from being used by welfare recipients to purchase alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets and other non-essential items.

“While New Yorkers have always been willing to lend a helping hand to those in need, we don’t like seeing taxpayer money being wasted,” Ranzenhofer said. “There is no law to prevent public assistance from being used to purchase beer, cigarettes or lottery tickets.  It’s time to close this loophole in State law.”

The Public Assistance Integrity Act (S.966) would prohibit using EBT cards for tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets, and ATM cash withdrawals at liquor stores and casinos. Senator Ranzenhofer is a cosponsor of the legislation. The bill passed the State Senate on June 18th. The State Assembly has not taken action on the bill.

“I was proud to vote for this measure in the Senate, but our job is not yet done. That’s why I am launching a new petition drive to encourage the State Assembly to take action on this bill,” Ranzenhofer said. “I encourage residents to join my campaign to protect your dollars by signing my petition.”

Residents can sign the petition by visiting

EBT cards work like a debit card for welfare recipients, containing both a Food Stamp and Cash Assistance component. Strict regulations guide what can be purchased for Food Stamps. Cash assistance is intended to pay for items not covered by Food Stamps, such as soap, toothpaste, school supplies and toiletries. Currently, there are no restrictions on the use of Cash Assistance.

Federal aid received by New York may be at risk if the State Assembly does not pass the bill. The federal government has mandated states implement a fraud prevention system by Feb. 2014. If New York State does not act accordingly, the Federal government will penalize the State by cutting federal funding for Cash Assistance by 5 percent or $120 million.

Photo provided by The Batavian's news partner, WBTA.

Dave Olsen

Amazing that this is the most important thing this guy can find to worry about. The sorry state of the State has so much that is wrong and needs to be dealt with, things which would improve everyone's situation and actually get people off of government assistance and he worries about people on welfare getting booze.

Oct 25, 2013, 1:42pm Permalink
Tim Miller

Thanks, Howard, for adding that note about the "Cash Assistance" program - I was wondering how Food Stamp money, which has traditionally been very limited on what it could be spent on, could be used for tobacco and alcohol. I guess it's the Cash Assistance funds being used on those items.

Oct 25, 2013, 2:12pm Permalink
Ed Hartgrove

Dave. Now I've started to question MY reading comprehension, because nowhere in the post did I read (or imagine) that "this is the most important thing this guy can find to worry about". Or, was something deleted from the story before I got to read it?

As for Mr. Ranzenhofer thinking that this will stop (much) of the fraud using EBT cards, I'm left wondering HOW.

From what I read (in this story), the bill will stop welfare recipients from using ATM machines at casinos and liquor stores. Whoop-ti-do!!

What part of the proposed bill would stop a beer/liquor seeker from stopping at the local bank, Walmart, or other ATM, withdraw money, and head to the local store for 'liquid refresments'?

On the face of it (as far as what was reported in this story), it would seem to be another 'feel-good' measure with little thinking behind it. But, I'm thinking a LOT of our elected politicians have come to expect that, as long as they APPEAR to be doing something good for their constituents, they will be re-elected over and over.

Personally, I think that if our nation's highest post (the Presidency) shouldn't be held for more than 2 (full) terms, that parameter should be carried over to every elected position. But, that's just my opinion.

Oct 25, 2013, 3:07pm Permalink
Lincoln DeCoursey

The benefit recipient is always able to withdraw these funds as hard currency via an ATM machine, so placing restrictions on what sort of items can be had if the user opts to use the card directly at a checkout are not particularly useful.

If the state is truly required by some federal "anti-fraud" mandate to add restrictions on what can be purchased using the cash benefit at checkout time, okay. Otherwise, I think proposal is taking it a bit far. Cash registers do not necessarily have the software capability to implement these sort of restrictions and enforcing this becomes a major implementation hassle for mid-size retailers such as independent grocers.

Compared to food stamp benefit, the cash benefit is a small amount of money, maybe $20 per month. Yes the hope is that the recipient will buy essentials with it, but realistically this is a small bit of mad money to help the benefit recipient with whatever pressing cash requirement he may have. I question whether it's reasonable to describe it as "fraud" if the person decides to get a beer with it. It's a cash benefit by definition.

There are significant problems with real, true fraud the food stamp program. A lot of the money that's earmarked for food purchases actually ends up being "cashed out" by urban corner/neighborhood store owners with actual food being nowhere in the picture, just cash split between the recipient and the store owner. This is where we need to focus enforcement efforts if we intend to get serious about food stamp fraud.

Oct 25, 2013, 3:28pm Permalink
Dave Olsen

Ed, it didn't say that anywhere. I just haven't heard him proposing any other legislation lately. We taxpayers here in NY Senate District 61 were also treated to a trifold double sided full color printed brochure from His Honor, Senator Ranzenhofer esquire describing this whole travesty of public assistance money being used to buy booze and ciggies. With a tear off card you can put your name on and mail back to be added to the petition. Don't know what that cost, but it's probably good that I don't. This guy is about as useful as tits on a boar hog, as the old-timers used to say. We pay this guy 79,000.00 a year, plus per diem, plus a state pension, plus an office and assistants to represent us, the taxpayers. I want him working on the fiscal boulder that's about to fall on us for trillions, the cronyism that is bleeding the state dry, the high taxes and onerous regulations that stifle economic activity and entrepreneurship. Economic freedom from the state will do more to reduce the cost of social welfare and get people productive than creating more bureaucracy to chase around and monitor what those on assistance are spending the money on. Ranzenhofer is a do-nothing windbag who is effectively a welfare recipient himself.

Here read through this, Ed. THIS is the problem. When are you going to read and start working on it Senator? The date on it is July 17, 2012. You've enough time.

Last line of the opening statement says it all: " The conclusion of the Task Force is unambiguous. The existing trajectory of state spending, taxation and administrative practices cannot be sustained. The basic problem is not cyclical. It is structural. The time to act is now."
It didn't say "or you could dither for a year and 3 months and then beat up on welfare people, that would also be good."

Oct 25, 2013, 3:39pm Permalink
Cheryl Wilmet

I am not impressed with the Senator's stance. I agree with Dave on the whole bull statement. Alcohol and tobacco are paid for by food stamp recipients. All you need is a friend or family member to give you cash in exchange for food and the recipient can do whatever they want with the cash. You would be surprised about the number of people who do that and did that way back in the 70's and 80's. Remember welfare cheese, many, many people who were given that sold them to others. Maybe you need to be in the "system" to know what really happens. I don't think someone sitting in an office in Albany really knows what is being traded or spent with government assistance. In my opinion, I wish there was a way that made welfare recipients come clean on who really lives with them (one person I know used to go to a food pantry weekly, received quite a bit of food stamps monthly and lived with her boyfriend who made a decent wage $600+ per week and they always had to money to drink and drink quite heavily). I do have to say that welfare paying rent directly to landlords is a good thing. Maybe someone who is not as rich as these politicians are should be elected to oversea quite a bit of "what goes on in the real world".

Oct 25, 2013, 4:12pm Permalink
Ed Hartgrove

Yeah, Dave. I, too, got a trifold double sided full color printed brochure.

Oops, sorry! My brochure was from Ronald McDonald House Charities, concerning the fully-restored 1963 Corvette Sting Ray they are giving away this year.

Well, at least one of the brochures was interesting. Not sure what I'd do if I won a state Senator.

Oct 25, 2013, 8:47pm Permalink
Kyle Slocum

I freely admit to being a reactionary. All welfare payments should be in the form of vouchers. Vouchers which specify what is to be provided in exchange for them. Just like the old WICS program.

You get the raw ingredients to make food to feed you and your dependents. You get one month's rent and utilities. You get a clothing allowance. You get a very small cash allotment that you are meant to use for incidental expenses relating to health and hygiene, but which will more often than not be used for recreational uses.

Assistance is meant to be just that: An assistance to help keep the poor or unemployed from destitution. Unfortunately, it has become a lifestyle for way too many and a method for farming votes for the Democrat Party. That is the truth. Denying it may be a required obeisance to your party, but it is still a damned lie.

Oct 25, 2013, 9:00pm Permalink
Mark Potwora

i agree with many above...This is a weak bill that will do nothing to stop what he is trying to ban from happening,,,,

The Public Assistance Integrity Act (S.966) would prohibit using EBT cards for tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets, and ATM cash withdrawals at liquor stores and casinos...So these same people go down the street to a different ATM machine...Get there money and go to the casino or liquor store..
How much did this guy spend on props for this picture ..How many showed up...How about the state not hand out EBT cards at all..Directly pay there rents ..

Oct 25, 2013, 11:04pm Permalink
tom hunt

I remember reading an article about the State of Kalifornia several years ago doing an audit of their EBT cards. To their dismay they found a large number of the cards were being redeem in Las Vagas casinos, cruise ships and several were traced to Walt Disney World in Florida. Totally a misuse of taxpayers funds to support a life style of the rich and famous: caviar taste and champagne dreams.

Oct 26, 2013, 2:17am Permalink
Raymond Richardson

"Compared to food stamp benefit, the cash benefit is a small amount of money, maybe $20 per month."

Lincoln, you have truly proven, with the above statement, that you haven't a clue at all.

The cash allowance amount for a household is determined by the number of people living in the household, as well as cost of living expenses for the household, such as rent, & utilities, and amounts to much more than $20/month. The lower these expenses are, the more cash allowance for the recipient.

I know of someone who receives $1200/month, cash allowance from welfare, along with $680/month food stamps, plus their rent, electric & gas bills paid. Welfare doesn't pay for cable T.V., phone(land line or cell), or any expenses for a motor vehicle such as insurance, registration, inspection, and preventive maintenance expenses. Only the bare necessities.

If Ranzenhofer wants to cut down on recipients' waste of tax dollars on non-essentials, then they should make the EBT cards inactive at ANY ATM machine for cash withdrawals, and can only be used at retailers for the essentials that food stamps can't be used to purchase

Just recently, News10 NBC here in Rochester, was doing another segment into their series NYS Exposed. This was regarding people who receive welfare food stamps, and need to supplement their food bill through local food pantries. The couple interviewed in the segment, in their home, clearly should not be spending money on Labatt's Blue if they're struggling to feed their family. The empty cans were on a table behind the man being interviewed .

In so far as your statement concerning the software needed to block tobacco & alcohol purchases with the cash allowance feature of an EBT card, the software would be no different than what's in use today with using an EBT card's food stamp use.

Oct 26, 2013, 9:15am Permalink
Frank Bartholomew

It is and always will be easy to pick on the less fortunate. Does that mean I don't beleive there is abuse, of course not, but these politicians have way bigger issues to focus on. Anything done to try and stop the abuse is a complete waste of time and resources, as long as some one is willing to pay .50 - .60 cents for every food stamp dollar, the fraud will continue. About all this will do is keep honest folks honest.
Anything coming from Ranz is politically motivated, just one more part of our gov that needs replacing.
Richard, at any time during the interview, was anyone asked who, or how the labatts
was purchased, or are you just guessing?

Oct 26, 2013, 11:20am Permalink
Ed Hartgrove

Raymond: Concerning the couple being interviewed by News10 NBC. I didn't see the interview, so I don't know if they were specifically asked about the beer cans. But, just because there were cans on the table doesn't really prove much. Unless the couple said, "Oh, yeah, we bought this beer with our welfare money", or you personally saw them purchasing it in a store, it would seem to be an assumption on your part that they purchased it with assistance money. Maybe one of their friends brought over the beer. Hell, unless it was asked about (or witnessed by you), who knows if the people even drink?

Maybe the guy collects aluminum cans for 'extra money'.

Oct 26, 2013, 11:15am Permalink
Frank Bartholomew

Ed, I guess if you receive public asst..having a beer is off limits, you simply should not be allowed to enjoy anything that the working class enjoys, after all,
you are a burden to the system,
It seems that those who receive asst. brought their situation upon themselves,
and could not possibly be victims of this economic mess our leaders(lol) got us
into. They probably never had jobs, never contributed to the system, and are mostly generational recipients.(100% sarcasm)

Oct 30, 2013, 3:57pm Permalink
Ed Hartgrove

Well, Frank, those are your words (and thoughts?), not mine. I try not to stereotype anyone. But thanks for your input. I truly hope you or yours are never in need of assistance. I wouldn't want you to think less of yourself.

Oct 26, 2013, 12:38pm Permalink
Ed Hartgrove

Oh, Frank. After looking over my last post (#17), I feel the need to amend one sentence.

I try not to stereotype anyone, except for (maybe) Democrats & career politicians.

Now it's haircut time, so, Bye!

Oct 26, 2013, 1:03pm Permalink

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