COLUMN: Public Assistance Integrity Act would institute necessary reforms

— The fact that the benefits are being allowed to be used improperly is troubling to me as it should be to all taxpayers and to recipients of public assistance who are using the system appropriately. Public assistance programs were created to help individuals and their families overcome difficult financial situations. Certainly, it was not envisioned that individuals would be able to use public assistance to purchase alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets. Greater accountability measures need to be in place. Last year, the Public Assistance Integrity Act passed the Senate. However, for reasons that are unclear, the Democratic-controlled Assembly did not bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. This year, I intend to renew my efforts to get the legislation passed in the Assembly and signed into law.

I have also reintroduced legislation that would require a criminal background check on those applying for public benefits. My legislation would require the Division of Criminal Justice Services to look for outstanding warrants or probation violations before benefits are approved. Currently, the state relies on applicants to be truthful about prior violations. Unfortunately, applicants are not always truthful as we saw last year in Fulton. In that case, authorities discovered a man was receiving public assistance in New York while he was wanted for attempted murder in South Carolina. A simple inexpensive background check would prevent this type of situation from occurring and would help uphold the integrity of our public assistance programs.

The intent of these pieces of legislation is not to enact punitive measures on those who receive public assistance. Rather, they are aimed at sustaining the public's faith in these well-intentioned programs, and to protect the people who use them properly. I am hopeful that this year we will be able to enact into law these commonsense reforms.

Assemblyman Will Barclay represents residents of Assembly District 120, which includes Lysander. He can be reached by mail at 200 North Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by phone (598-5185).

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