More controls on EBT cards debated
House bill would ban certain use of cards
Jackie Whiton, the Antrim woman who quit her job as a cashier at a Peterborough convenience store in 2012 after learning that state law would require her to sell alcohol and cigarettes to customers who use electronic benefits cards, was back in the spotlight Tuesday, when she testified at a hearing in Concord on legislation that would ban such purchases.
“I took in a petition with more than 1,300 signatures, which I turned over to Representative [Frank] Sapareto,” Whiton said on Wednesday. “I’ve been collecting them ever since this happened. I’ve been waiting for someone as serious as I was before I turned over my petitions.”
Sapareto, a Derry Republican, is one of the sponsors of House Bill 1213, which would prevent those with the government assistance cards, known as EBT cards, from using them or money obtained with them at automatic teller machines to buy alcohol or tobacco products. Other sponsors are Peterborough Democrat Peter Leishman and Republican Bill O’Brien of Mont Vernon, the former New Hampshire speaker of the house.
“It’s a nonpartisan issue where there’s broad support on both sides of the aisle,” Leishman said on Wednesday. “The way our legislation is proposed, people could withdraw a minimal amount of cash, but could not use the card to buy alcohol or tobacco.”
Whiton drew national attention in 2012 after she quit her job in protest, and she’s been focusing on spreading the word about ways she feels the cards can be abused. “One representative asked if I had uncovered any fraud,” she said. “I have. I haven’t given out any names. But I know one man who says he uses his EBT card at a cash machine to get cash and then buys liquor. That’s not right.”
Whiton said her preference would be to eliminate the option to use the cards to get cash. “On an EBT grocery card, there are restrictions. With a debit card, you just give carte blanche,” she said.
“Jackie has certainly brought this issue to everyone’s attention,” Leishman said. “It was an awakening for all of us.”
John Dumais, president of the N.H. Grocers Association, also testified at the hearing. On Wednesday, he said the law would be difficult to monitor and enforce. “If we have to stop and query customers about where they got the cash, it becomes a real quandary,” Dumais said. One suggestion that has been made is for EBT holders to have to submit copies of receipts showing where they spend their money, but Dumais said that would be both cumbersome and costly.
“I testified that Jackie did the right thing for her, as an individual. We all want to see tax money being given to the needy used for the best purposes,” Dumais said. “We support the intent of the bill, but not the implementation.”
MaryLou Beaver, director of Every Child Matters in New Hampshire, a nonprofit child advocacy organization, also said the bill is flawed. “You’re putting enforcement in the hands of cashiers and clerks. That sets up all kinds of issues, as far as I’m concerned,” Beaver said on Wednesday. “Are you going to ask everyone where they got the cash? That’s no way for a retailer to have to do business.”
Beaver said a recent New Hampshire law enacted in response to a federal mandate now prevents the use of EBT cards at casinos, liquor stores and adult entertainment businesses, including use at ATM machines in such establishments. “It puts limitations on in a way that’s much easier to enforce and we haven’t even begun to see how it will work,” Beaver said. “To add something on top is ill-advised.”
Beaver said she’s hearing about proposals similar to HB 1213 from all over the country. “Lawmakers are taking anecdotal stories and using them to make policy changes,” she said. “We need to take a step back. We need to be careful in how we go about legislating this stuff.”