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EBT card changes will likely do little

Jackie Whiton didn’t know it at the time, but when she finally took her stand, voices would echo in agreement as far away as Europe.

Whiton, in case you’ve forgotten, gained headlines in 2012 when she refused to sell cigarettes to a patron using a government-issued EBT card at the Big Apple in Peterborough. The Antrim woman who had worked at the store for about six years resigned after refusing to comply with state law. She said her taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to bankroll the smoking and drinking habits of those on welfare. Instantly, her story became cause celebre at a time when government spending was the hottest topic, not only here in the U.S., but also in debt-addled Europe.

After the story went viral, Whiton began to meet with legislators in key positions in New Hampshire, including then House Speaker Bill O’Brien, in an effort to push forward some concrete changes to what she felt was a flawed system.

In a December 2012 interview with the Ledger-Transcript that reported on her effort to collect signatures for a petition, Whiton said she no longer felt the cards should be banned because many good people used them as intended — for food and other necessities. Instead, she said, her petition would ask the Legislature to regulate the cards “by eliminating the ability of cardholders to get cash at ATMs or elsewhere, and by disallowing the purchase of beer, wine and alcohol, tobacco and tobacco accessories, lottery/gambling, tanning services, tattoo/piercing services, strip clubs and other adult entertainment, mail services and other items that are not essential for daily living.”

Whiton’s never gone so far as to submit her petition, though she says she has collected about 1,300 signatures. And while the conversation has certainly died down from its 2012 crescendo, there’s still a valid sentiment that more safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used for vices . It’s hard to imagine that Whiton, or anyone else with similar thoughts, will be happy with where New Hampshire has ended up on this issue. Here’s the short of it:

Those who rely on state-issued EBT cards cannot use those cards at liquor stores, casinos or strip clubs. Also, users cannot withdraw cash from ATMs and then turn around and use that cash at any of those establishments. Getting bits of clarity on such a murky issue is certainly a good thing, but it’s also increasingly clear that the real issue is not really the ability to purchase liquor and cigarettes with these cards, it’s the ability to turn them into cash. That’s where the money trail ends. According to a WMUR investigation that collected EBT records between Dec. 1, 2011, and May 1, 2012, the cards were used at ATMs far more often than anywhere else.

Our story on Page 1 of today’s paper indicates some feel it’d be inconvenient to eliminate the cash withdrawal option. That’s understandable, though, we hope legislators at least consider what other options may look like.

We need to find ways to strengthen our safety net, and the best way to do that is to implement some real measures that eliminate the ability of those who take advantage of the system. Because the truth is, those who truly need our assistance also need taxpayers to have faith in how it is administered.

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