Should cigarette purchases be allowed with EBT Card?

17 posts / 0 new
Last post
GloriaInTX's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4229
Should cigarette purchases be allowed with EBT Card?

Currently EBT cards can be used essentially as cash for any purchase. Should their use be restricted?

Woman fired for refusing to accept EBT card for cigarettes; NH says welfare abuse tough to stop

PETERBOROUGH - Jackie Whiton's stand against what she sees as a misuse of state assistance has become a national story.

?I've had so much support it's been overwhelming,? she said in her Antrim home Wednesday night as she prepared to go on FOX news this morning.

A former employee of the Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough, Whiton was fired after she refused to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer cards as payment for cigarettes. She is now collecting signatures for a petition protesting how the state aid program is run, and plans to lobby the governor.

?Somebody told me to call Welfare Fraud and I said absolutely not. This is not fraud. They allow this to happen,? she said of the state.

EBT cards are issued to recipients of the Department of Health and Human Services Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF program. In the mid-1990s, the Department of Health and Human Services started issuing the cards. Before that people received a check.

EBT benefits or state assistance money can be used to purchase anything, including alcohol and cigarettes. The cards can be used at strip clubs, tanning and nail salons and tattoo parlors, Whiton said.

?They can get cash out of an ATM with those,? she said.

No state in the country has restrictions on how cash benefits can be spent, according to Terry Smith, director of DHHS Division of Family Assistance.

?That's pretty much the law of the land; it's not just New Hampshire,? he said.

About 14,000 households received monthly cash benefits from the state last year, a total of $36 million.

More than 56,000 households received food stamp assistance, which are overseen by the federal government, according to Smith. Smith said the federal government trains store employees on the restrictions of the food stamp EBT cards and then monitors stores and individual use to enforce those restrictions.

If the state were to enact restrictions on how cash assistance is spent, DHHS would have to set up a costly infrastructure to monitor use, Smith said. ?We'd need more staff, travel budgets,? he said.

Fired from market

Whiton said she had worked at the market six years.

?What happened was, a young man came in and wanted to buy cigarettes and I asked him for his ID and he handed me his EBT card. I told him he couldn't buy them with the card and he said yes he could.?

The following day, the foster mother of the man, who Whiton estimates to be about 20, came into the convenience store to complain.

Whiton still refused to accept the EBT card for cigarettes, so the woman went to her boss, she said.

?The next day I got a call from the home office and they said I have to sell to him and I said at 65 years old, I don't have to do anything I don't want to do. I said I would bow out gracefully and gave my two weeks' notice. The next day they fired me,? Whiton said.

She added it was the head office C.N. Brown Co., not her manager in Peterborough, who fired her.

?This is what the taxpayer's hard-earned dollars are going toward,? she said. ?There are a few people of course who are against me, and they are probably card holders.?

Enforcing the rules

Whiton said she plans to send her petition to the governor, asking the state to dissolve the ?cash cards.?

?I am not against the EBT (food stamp) grocery cards. I am not,? she said. ?But a woman can't even buy toilet paper or tampons with those.?

A new federal law requires states to prohibit in the next two years the use of the EBT ?cash cards? at liquor stores, casinos and adult entertainment venues, Smith said.

In light of the new federal law, DHHS went back and looked at EBT card use in May and found that not one card was used at a liquor store that month. That doesn't mean a person in the program didn't go to an ATM, withdraw cash and then purchase liquor with the state assistance money, Smith said.

Who gets the help?

The TANF program is set up to help people who are at or under 43 percent of the poverty level.

A single mother with two children and no income can receive up to $675 a month, for example.

?Are some people being irresponsible? I expect so. But there is not a lot of money to be irresponsible with,? Smith said.

TANF is set up to encourage people to find work and move off assistance.

?New Hampshire has the highest work participation in the Northeast and I think we come in 10th in the country in having people in work activities,? Smith said.

He said restricting the EBT purchases would not stop irresponsible spending, since users could simply go to an ATM and get cash.

http://www.unionleader.com/article/20120628/NEWHAMPSHIRE09/706289985/0/FRONTPAGE

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1763

I am a little confused by the article, specifically this:

What happened was, a young man came in and wanted to buy cigarettes and I asked him for his ID and he handed me his EBT card. I told him he couldn't buy them with the card and he said yes he could.

The following day, the foster mother of the man, who Whiton estimates to be about 20, came into the convenience store to complain.

Whiton still refused to accept the EBT card for cigarettes, so the woman went to her boss, she said.

If I am understanding correctly, the man showed his ID to Whiton the previous day, so why would she "estimate" his age?

Secondly, if this is a foster care situation, it influences my decision. I'm making a lot of assumptions here, but if he is a foster child over the age of 18 still attending high school, the state is helping to support him. Why wouldn't part of that support include discretionary income? (I know in my state the foster children are supposed to receive money from their foster parents.) Thus, why would he not have the same rights as an other person buying a legal product with what the establishment considers a legal form of payment?

I don't know all the different cards out there, but aren't there some where CS can be loaded directly on it? DD1's CS will continue until she is 21. Should she not be allowed to purchase a legal product just because the money was deposited to a state-issued account rather than directly to her?

GloriaInTX's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4229

EBT cards are issued to recipients of the Department of Health and Human Services Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF program.

These are only issued for the TANF program (used to be AFDC). It has nothing to do with child support. They used to issue checks but now they put it on a card instead that can be used just like an ATM or debit card.

GloriaInTX's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4229

"ethanwinfield" wrote:

I am a little confused by the article, specifically this:

If I am understanding correctly, the man showed his ID to Whiton the previous day, so why would she "estimate" his age?

It said that she asked for his ID, not that he provided it. He gave her the EBT card instead.

Offline
Last seen: 4 years 2 months ago
Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 274

This was illegal for her to do.

I don't necessarily agree to funding bad habits through tax money but it's not my decision what they spend their income on. I just know that it is not a large amount generally and should be used for important things first.

Although, it does state she asked for id and doesn't say he showed her id saying he was legally allowed to buy the cigarettes.

She was wrong.

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1763

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

These are only issued for the TANF program (used to be AFDC). It has nothing to do with child support. They used to issue checks but now they put it on a card instead that can be used just like an ATM or debit card.

In some states you can have CS loaded onto the same card.

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1763

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

It said that she asked for his ID, not that he provided it. He gave her the EBT card instead.

Really? Than the issue would be moot - if she denied the purchase based on failure to show ID she wouldn't be in this mess. If she "estimates" his age at 19 - 20 her story isn't adding up.

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1763

I am really tired of people taking "inventory" of how other people spend their money and thinking they have a say in based on the fact they somehow contribute to it. If the law doesn't put restrictions on it, how can people arbitrarily think they can decide otherwise?

GloriaInTX's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4229

"ethanwinfield" wrote:

I am really tired of people taking "inventory" of how other people spend their money and thinking they have a say in based on the fact they somehow contribute to it. If the law doesn't put restrictions on it, how can people arbitrarily think they can decide otherwise?

I think people have every reason to be upset that the money that is taken from them involuntarily is wasted like this. It is exactly why government programs are not the best way to distribute charity because then the people think it is owed them and they deserve it. If someone has enough surplus from a government program to purchase alcohol and cigarettes with it than they are getting money they don't "need". Government programs are supposed to be for people in need. I don't know if there is a feasible way of making people spend the money they get wisely, but that doesn't mean I can't think it is wrong when they are blatantly wasting it as in this case.

Offline
Last seen: 4 years 2 months ago
Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 274

You can think it's wrong Gloria but you don't legally have a right to deny the purchase based on your feelings...at least not right now. I do sort of agree with you but on the basis that it doesn't necessarily cover what they *need* in the month never mind extras like cigarettes.

Picking what our taxes go to is not a good idea. There are plenty of things our taxes pay for that I think is insane but that doesn't give me a right to stop that program.

GloriaInTX's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4229

"Jessica1980" wrote:

You can think it's wrong Gloria but you don't legally have a right to deny the purchase based on your feelings...at least not right now. I do sort of agree with you but on the basis that it doesn't necessarily cover what they *need* in the month never mind extras like cigarettes.

Picking what our taxes go to is not a good idea. There are plenty of things our taxes pay for that I think is insane but that doesn't give me a right to stop that program.

No one said anything about stopping the program. This clerk stated that she would rather quit than go against her conscience in letting people abuse a program that should be helping people in need. Regardless of whether they are legally allowed to purchase these things with the card it still isn't what the program is intended for and is morally wrong. There is just no good way to stop it from happening. The debate question is whether there SHOULD be restrictions put on these cards so they can't be used for these kinds of things. I absolutely think that there should, but just don't know if there is a cost effective way of putting it into practice. It is sad that someone could take their whole months income provided at taxpayer expense and go buy drugs and whatever else they want with it.

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1763

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

I think people have every reason to be upset that the money that is taken from them involuntarily is wasted like this. It is exactly why government programs are not the best way to distribute charity because then the people think it is owed them and they deserve it. If someone has enough surplus from a government program to purchase alcohol and cigarettes with it than they are getting money they don't "need". Government programs are supposed to be for people in need. I don't know if there is a feasible way of making people spend the money they get wisely, but that doesn't mean I can't think it is wrong when they are blatantly wasting it as in this case.

Oh Please. If the case in the OP is a foster care case, then why wouldn't they be in need? My aunt and uncle did a foster to adopt and even after the adoption they still received health coverage and other $ from the state for his care. I won't begrudge them the purchase of cigarettes, alcohol, or a 6-figure collection of shoes. If I took in a foster child, technically I could afford the expenses, but that's a big commitment financially and otherwise.

When XDH and I were first married and DD1 was born, we were on WIC. Yet, DH smoked and drank the occasional beer. Yep, we collected a handout while having the money to smoke. We made $19K a year. I was a full-time student, and he was active-duty military. You're really gonna judge us? Nice.

Maybe the large corporations need to be judged more harshly. They don't need the tax breaks when they are paying their CEOs the outrageous salaries they get.

My money is involuntarily wasted on so much in this country but a foster mother/child buying cigarettes isn't one of those things.

Edited to add:
Since some states allow you to load child support on the card, do you still make a blanket judgment toward those using the card?

Do you feel the same way toward those who take out federally backed student loans and buy cigarettes while in school?

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1763

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

No one said anything about stopping the program. This clerk stated that she would rather quit than go against her conscience in letting people abuse a program that should be helping people in need. Regardless of whether they are legally allowed to purchase these things with the card it still isn't what the program is intended for and is morally wrong. There is just no good way to stop it from happening. The debate question is whether there SHOULD be restrictions put on these cards so they can't be used for these kinds of things. I absolutely think that there should, but just don't know if there is a cost effective way of putting it into practice. It is sad that someone could take their whole months income provided at taxpayer expense and go buy drugs and whatever else they want with it.

You don't know this. You don't know everybody's individual situation and can't make a blanket statement about everyone who has an EBT card. Having an EBT card doesn't mean that is your only income.

Offline
Last seen: 4 years 1 month ago
Joined: 06/04/07
Posts: 1368

I quit reading after I read about none of the states having laws against this as I know our combined applications contradict that statement.

Here is what is on our applications:

Note: Cash on an EBT card is provided to help families meet their basic needs. These basic needs include food, shelter,
clothing, utilities and transportation. These funds are given until families can support themselves. It is illegal for an EBT user
to buy or attempt to buy tobacco products or alcohol with the EBT card. If you do, it is fraud and you will be removed from
the program. Do not use an EBT card at a gambling establishment.

https://edocs.dhs.state.mn.us/lfserver/Public/DHS-5223-ENG

They can't print this if it's not illegal in our state. This statement has been recently added (I'm guessing February 2012 with the latest update). That being said, if it is not illegal in their state, the woman had no business refusing to conduct the sale. But what's ridiculous about the entire thing is that they easily can withdraw all of their cash benefits and simply pay cash. There's no way that they would be able to then prove that it came from their EBT card. What about clients who choose to have their benefits be directly deposited into their bank accounts? Guess it's not illegal to buy alcohol or cigarettes from there even if the income derives solely from government assistance.

ETA: Our state has child support going on the Relia card or direct deposit.

Jenni Beth's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 11 months ago
Joined: 03/03/11
Posts: 1407

In my state you can't use EBT to buy anything other than food items. When you go to the grocery store it automatically takes out diapers, toiletpaper, tobacco products, etc and makes you pay cash for them.

ETA: I used to work in a grocery store in high school and that is how the system worked.

mommytoMR.FACE's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 3 months ago
Joined: 04/10/09
Posts: 781

"Jenni Beth" wrote:

In my state you can't use EBT to buy anything other than food items. When you go to the grocery store it automatically takes out diapers, toiletpaper, tobacco products, etc and makes you pay cash for them.

ETA: I used to work in a grocery store in high school and that is how the system worked.

When you swipe the EBT card, two options appear: CASH or FOOD

When you choose FOOD, then yes, you can only buy food items. When you choose CASH, that allows you to use the cash assistance that is loaded on the card as well.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Offline
Last seen: 5 days 12 hours ago
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6803

"Jenni Beth" wrote:

In my state you can't use EBT to buy anything other than food items. When you go to the grocery store it automatically takes out diapers, toiletpaper, tobacco products, etc and makes you pay cash for them.

ETA: I used to work in a grocery store in high school and that is how the system worked.

I was just going to say this. (Same state) I have been behind people in line many times who are using programs like this. They have to separate food and non food items. They would never be aloud to use it to buy cigarettes. Must very State by State.