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WNYT in Albany, New York has profiled Sarah Fish, a local business owner who managed to use food stamps to get her life back on track, and start a restaurant called The Hungry Fish.

What makes Fish rare is not that she used government benefits to get to a better place financially, it’s that she has the honesty and integrity to admit the system is flawed.  Fish also admits to being able to use her benefits to “spend a lot of money on drugs and alcohol”.

She adds, “it isn’t hard to scam the state system”.

An excerpt from the WNYT report reveals that there are definitely some people scamming the system, using their EBT card for cash withdrawals at bars and strip clubs.

“If people were actually held accountable for for how they spent the money, had limits for where it could be spent and what it could be spent on, it would limit the abuse,” Fish said.

We investigated the issue in November 2011 and discovered tens of thousands of state benefit dollars were withdrawn from ATMs in bars, at the OTB and in liquor stores by people using their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. The cards are issued by the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance – but the agency was doing nothing to oversee or restrict where the cash is taken out or spent.

We recently went back and obtained more EBT Cash withdrawl records: From June 2011 to August 2012:

More than six thousand dollars were withdrawn from Troy Discount Beverage.

Nearly 700 dollars from Iffy’s Place – a bar in Albany.

And enough for a lap-dance or two taken out from an ATM at DiCarlo’s in Albany courtesy of the taxpayer.

New York State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R) is fighting this abuse, co-sponsoring the Public Assistance Integrity Act.  The Act, which was blocked from being introduced on the floor abyear ago, would “would make it impossible for folks to use their EBT cards at ATMs inside liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment spots.”

Does New York have the politcial courage to tell people that taxpayer money is to be used for bettering one’s life, not for liquor and strip clubs?