Safeguarding Help, and Protecting Tax Dollars

There was considerable coverage this week to efforts by members of the State Senate, including Senator Kathleen Marchione, a representative of Rensselaer County in the Senate, to enact legislation to limit fraud and abuse on electronic benefits transfer cards, or EBTs, provided to public assistance recipients. Much documentation has been provided regarding misuse of the publicly-funded EBT cards to purchase tobacco, alcohol and even visits to strip clubs.

The announcement of the effort to crackdown on fraud and abuse on EBT cards was accompanied by the personal story of Sara Fish. Sara detailed her rise from public assistance to her ownership today of a successful restaurant, the Hungry Fish Café on Pawling Avenue in Troy. Sara has earned a following for her unique dishes that rely on fresh and local produce, and legislators know her to be a strong supporter of community events and organizations.

Current state laws have created a gap that allows use of EBT cards for items like tobacco and alcohol. The Senate bill aims at restricting those uses, and ensuring funds are used for those in real need and difficulty. Those of us in the County Legislature agree.

For the last three years, the Rensselaer County Legislature has approved several resolutions to limit misuse of EBT cards. Along with purchases for non-essential items, EBT cards have been at the center of cases involving millions in fraud. In neighboring Albany County, misappropriated EBT cards may have caused over $6 million in fraud and abuse over a several year period.

There have been cases involving the wrongful sale or transfer of food stamps. Along with asking for the state to crackdown on fraud and abuse, we have also sought more control over how mandated programs required by the state and federal government to be provided at enormous expense to county taxpayers are provided. These common-sense, cost-saving solutions have so far not met with the required approval from the state.

The prolonged economic downturn has hurt many and steps need to be taken to ensure funds placed in our social safety net are properly used. Taxpayers are also facing the challenges of a struggling economy and simply cannot afford misuse of these funds.

We hope the State Legislature follows the lead of State Senators like Senator Marchione and enacts meaningful and needed EBT fraud protection. County Legislators will again consider legislation supporting such a move. And in the meantime, we look forward to more success stories like Sara Fish.

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