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Dream Act Could Have New Life; NYS Loses Millions In Federal Funding Over EBT Abuse

With the legislative session in Albany charging forward, a pair of funding plans are under the microscope.

Prospects for the New York State DREAM Act that passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly last year are on shaky ground in the Senate... four Senate Democrats have yet to publicly weigh in on the measure that would give access to $25 million in state Tuition Assistance Program money to New York students in the U.S. illegally. A report issued by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli indicates 8,300 in the SUNY and CUNY systems would be eligible. Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez of the 127th district says the issue begs to be resolved.   "We have people of all colors, all races, all backgrounds who are struggling to go to college themselves. What about the people who are in our inner cities who are here legally, or native-born, or properly documented citizens, what about their hopes, their dreams?  I'm entirely sympathetic to meeting the needs of this other population."

Even as immigration reform inches its way through Washington, Lopez would like to see a way for the people who want to be part of the U.S. to realize their dreams through obtaining legal citizenship.  Jacki Esposito is with the New York Immigrant Coalition: "It's up to New York to be a leader on this and be sure that we are honoring our long-standing tradition of welcoming immigrants."

At a recent capitol press conference, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for declared he would sign the DREAM Act if it passes the Legislature.

The second funding issue making headlines involves New York's failure to meet the terms of a mandate from the federal government that says states need to develop policies to prohibit EBT transactions at liquor stores, casinos and for adult-oriented entertainment.

Instances of EBT abuse include the cards being used to pay for liquor and lottery tickets...  NewsChannel 13 investigated the issue in November 2011 and discovered tens of thousands of state benefit dollars were withdrawn from ATMs in bars, at the OTB and in liquor stores by people using their electronic benefit transfer cards.  Public Assistance Integrity Act co-sponsor Steve McLaughlin, an Assembly Republican, told WNYT one year ago it's not hard to scam the state system. "Am I naïve enough to believe they're not just going to go to the Bank of America on the corner to get the money and then go to a strip club? I know that's what they're going to do."

The 2012 Public Assistance Integrity Act established a 12 a.m. Saturday, February 22nd deadline for states to take definitive action against EBT abuse or lose millions in federal funding.   In New York, the bill passed the Senate but hit deadwater in the Assembly, which has frustrated Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.   "Taxpayers across theboard lost 120 million dollars. In these economic times we can't afford to lose that funding and we can't afford not to protect the integrity of this program and make sure the money goes to families who need these essentials to feed theier kids, to wahs their clothes, to do the neccesities and essentials."

Fellow Capital Region Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat, says the EBT is complex with "no simple fix" and suggests the money may not be lost: "Deadlines do get missed quite often. We still need to get to the fundamental issue of what delayed this change."  McDonald adds he doesn't think public officials want to continue this behavior.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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