Welfare recipients took out cash at bars, liquor stores, X-rated video shops, hookah parlors and even strip clubs — where they presumably spent their taxpayer money on lap dances rather than diapers, a Post investigation found.
A database of 200 million Electronic Benefit Transfer records from January 2011 to July 2012, obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information request, showed welfare recipients using their EBT cards to make dozens of cash withdrawals at ATMs inside Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn; the Blue Door Video porn shop in the East Village; The Anchor, a sleek SoHo lounge; the Patriot Saloon in TriBeCa; and Drinks Galore, a liquor distributor in The Bronx.
Welfare recipients receive food stamps and cash assistance under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Both benefits are accessed through an EBT card, but only cash assistance — meant for housing, utilities and household necessities — can be accessed at ATMs.
A single-person household could receive a maximum $200 in monthly food stamps plus $158 in cash assistance. A family of four could get as much as $668 in food stamps and $433 in cash.
The food-stamp program prohibits the purchase of booze, tobacco and lottery tickets with an EBT card. But with the cash-assistance program, users can blow money on strippers or a six-pack and to tap welfare dollars from liquor stores, casinos and adult-oriented establishments.
The Post found dozens of pubs, nightclubs and tobacco shops where welfare dough was dispensed — and presumably spent.
The Boiler Room, a gay dive bar in the East Village, had $120 and $60 transactions a minute apart on Jan. 17, 2011. The bar is around the corner from a Bank of America that takes EBT cards.
West Village tobacco shop Shisha International had EBT transactions ranging from $40 to $180 in 2011. The store is near at least two EBT-friendly ATMs.
Legislative efforts to crack down on sinful spending have fallen short.
State Sen. Tom Libous (R-Binghamton) passed a bill in his chamber in June that would outlaw welfare withdrawals at gambling dens, strip clubs and other venues of vice, but the measure is gathering dust in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, signed by President Obama last February, requires states to prohibit sinful welfare spending by 2014. If they don’t, they’ll forfeit federal cash.
“The people who are stealing from the program are the ones I want to go after,” Libous said. “Not someone who lost his job or a single mom who has to feed her kids. That’s what this program is supposed to be for.”
A spokesman with the US Department of Health and Human Services said states make their own rules on EBT cards. Some states already limit where EBT cards can withdraw money.
A rep from OTDA, New York’s welfare office, said the state does not choose or regulate which retailers get ATMs that handle EBTs. Instead, retailers decide whether to use an ATM that accepts welfare cards.