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Russell supports EBT abuse legislation

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MASSENA - Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) said she expects some form of legislation aimed at curbing EBT abuse to be included the state’s final budget once its adopted later this year.

Ms. Russell also said she is supportive of such legislation, noting she is among the sponsors of a bill in the Assembly.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy last week challenged the state Assembly and Ms. Russell to support the legislation passed by the state Senate earlier this month.

“At this time I think it’s a good starting point, and it’s certainly a bill that should be embraced in the assembly as well,” he said. “It would be interesting knowing the volume of welfare fraud in this county, particularly in Massena, to hear the stance of our assemblywoman.”

Ms. Russell said she has long supported the legislation. “I’ve been a sponsor of the bill in the New York State Assembly for some time,” she said.

With the governor’s proposal of prohibiting the use of EBT at ATMs located in liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment facilities, included in the budget proposal, Ms. Russell said she thinks that’s ultimately how the bill will be adopted.

“We need to figure out a way to clamp down on purchases with taxpayers’ money on alcohol and cigarettes,” she said. “It would make sense to reach a three-way agreement in the budget.”

Given that budget discussions are ongoing, Ms. Russell said it wouldn’t make sense for the state Assembly to pass a bill similar to something included in the budget.

While Ms. Russell said she would like to see the Senate’s additions to the bill included in the final version that gets passed, even if they’re not,she said the governor’s proposal was a step in the right direction.

“If we could pass that, it would make a difference in addressing the fraud issue,” she said.

Ms. Russell also said in her opinion the state needs to do more to address how the cards can be used.

Through conversations, she’s had with law enforcement officials, Ms. Russell said she’s learned of drug raids where “piles of EBT cards” have been found.

“Obviously New York state hasn’t done enough to crack down on how these cards can be used,” she said. “People are using them like $20 bills.”

Recognizing that not everyone abuses the cards and some people truly need public assistance, Ms. Russell said it’s unfortunate that there are people using the cards to purchase things like alcohol, cigarettes, and even illegal drugs when there are people out there who would use the money to purchase food or clothing for their families.

“There’s a limited amount of public assistance available and we can’t have people using it at place like liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs,” she said.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy challenged the assembly and Ms. Russell on the issue in comments that were published in Saturday’s Daily Courier-Observer.

“At this time I think it’s a good starting point, and it’s certainly a bill that should be embraced in the assembly as well,” he said. “It would be interesting knowing the volume of welfare fraud in this county, particularly in Massena, to hear the stance of our assemblywoman.”

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