By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- St. Lawrence County legislators want stiffer penalties for abusers of public assistance and stronger laws to limit misuse of benefits.
St. Lawrence County legislators agreed to support the Public Assistance Integrity Act at finance committee meeting Monday.
The bill would prohibit the sale or purchase of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or lottery tickets with public assistance benefits and prohibits the use an electronic benefit transfer transaction, at a liquor store, casino or adult entertainment facility.
The bill has support from Senate members Patricia Ritchie, Betty Little and Joseph Griffo, as well as Assembly members Addie Russell, Ken Blankenbush Janet Duprey.
St. Lawrence County legislative chairman Jonathon Putney, a Waddington Democrat, said he felt the county should support the act after he became aware of apparent abuses of public assistance.
“We are hearing about people using assistance to purchase beer, liquor and tobacco products as well as other services that the benefits were not intended for,” he said. “Social welfare programs were implemented to help families in need, people of lower income and people with disabilities. At the end of the day we want to make sure those funds are available for the people that need them.”
Putney said the majority of people receiving public assistance are not abusing the program, but regulations have been unable to keep up with technology and a few “bad apples” have found a way to work around restrictions.
“This bill will put some teeth into penalties and create regulations that prohibit and discourage abuse,” he said.
Putney said the finance committee unanimously supported the bill, which will be approved by the full board of legislators Monday and forwarded to state representatives and officials.