State Assembly Members Vote Against Public Assistance

Republicans in the state Assembly largely voted against an extension of legislation exempting some income and assets from being counted against those applying for public assistance.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted against the legislation in the Social Services Committee while Goodell and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, joined many Republicans from across the state in voting against the legislation. The extender passed the Assembly 102-46 and was approved 61-0 in the state Senate.

It has not been signed yet by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though it is scheduled to take effect Aug. 22.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, D-Forest Hills, sponsored the legislation and made note of the late hour when the extender was being debated on the Assembly floor. The legislation was passed in the last two days of the state legislative session.

“This bill is a straight extender,” Hevesi said. “We’ve done this the same for the last 20 years. In order to save my colleagues time, I’m going to send my intern, Brian Barnwell, over to Mr. Goodell with a copy of the transcript of the debate from two years ago and hope that that is the end of this debate.”

State law already exempts some assets from the calculation for public assistance, including $2,000 cash or $3,000 for households with anyone over the age of 60; $4,600 in a separate bank account to purchase a first vehicle or a replacement vehicle so that the welfare recipient can seek or obtain employment; $1,400 in a separate bank account to pay tuition to a two- or four-year college; the person’s home; a vehicle; a burial plot; funeral agreements up to $1,500 in equity value per household member; real property the household is trying to sell; and money in an individual development account which helps families save money and work towards greater self-sufficiency. Earlier this year, the state Legislature also exempted college savings accounts up to $300,000 per child from being counted against someone receiving public assistance. That legislation has not yet been signed by Cuomo.

“Since I’ve been reminded of my comments, I’d be happy to explain my votes,” Goodell said in reference to Hevesi’s earlier comment. “This section of the Social Services law allows an individual who is on Social Services to keep a certain amount of assets and still be eligible for public assistance. I think it’s a great idea that people who are receiving public assistance are able to keep a reasonable amount of assets. My concern is the list of assets includes two houses, a vehicle that is worth $12,000 some dollars, cash that can be up to $15,000 a year in an ABLE account, and when you add it all up an indivdiual could be supported by our taxpayers while having literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets. I don’t think that was really the intent of the program and I think we’re really stretching the generosity of our taxpayers when we ask them to pay when individuals can have susbtantial assets.”

Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, echoed Goodell’s concerns while reminding legislators that it is their job to look for worst-case scenarios in an effort to prevent fraud and abuse of public programs.

“Now understanding this is the worst-case scanario, we’re the legislature,” Walczyk said. “We’ve got to think about the opportunities for abuse. We’ve got to think about the principles of programs like this and we really need to look ourselves in the mirror and say are we creating a safety net which is going to help New Yorkers pull themselves out of poverty and bridge out of poverty or are we creating a hammock. I would say the latter and that’s why I vote no and encourage my colleagues to do so as well.”