BUFFALO - Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a promise on Monday: The state will create a law to prevent welfare recipients from spending taxpayer money on alcohol, cigarettes, strip clubs, casinos and other so-called "sinful activities."
"We will pass it," he said.
The Senate already did. Twice.
Except the Assembly failed to vote on the Public Assistance Integrity Act last week, meaning the legislative session ended without a law to reform welfare cash spending.
The problem is, every state in the country is now required to enact these reforms under a federal law signed by Barack Obama in 2012. If New York fails to comply by February 2014, it will lose $120 million in federal aid for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
"It's critical we meet this deadline," said Democrat Dennis Gabryszak, who represents Western New York's 143rd district. "The state can't afford to lose that money."
During a visit to Buffalo State College on Monday -- in which he promoted the new law to give tax exemptions to businesses on college campuses -- Cuomo told 2 On Your Side it's only a matter of time before the state passes the legislation to avoid the federal penalties.
"It's not always as easy as it sounds reforming welfare," Cuomo said. "The question is, it becomes a compromise."
According to Gabryszak, the lack of compromise in the Assembly stems from a resistance by downstate politicians. He said those opponents disagree with legislation that would tell people how to spend their state aid, likening it to regulating spending by other state workers like police officers or firefighters.
However, now that federal law requires regulations, the legislature must act. It could also rely on the Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance, which can create its own welfare rules to satisfy the federal government.
Michael Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, told 2 On Your Side on Monday that it would be more appropriate for OTDA to enact regulations. He said if that office fails to do so, "we'll do it" when the legislature returns to session in January.
That would leave lawmakers a short window of opportunity to save their funding before February.
"When we get back in January, we have two months to work on this," Gabryszak said, "and get this resolved."