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N.H. Senate passes bill banning alcohol, tobacco purchases on EBT cards

Update: The original version of this article incorrectly stated a provision of the law. There are no limits on how much money people can withdraw from ATMs with EBT cards.

Senators strongly supported a bill yesterday that would prohibit those receiving public assistance from using government-issued cards to purchase alcohol, tobacco, adult entertainment, lottery tickets, tattoos and piercings, or for gambling.

“This is not about bias” against poor people, said Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican. “This is about being good stewards of taxpayers’ money.”

Some public assistance recipients receive their money on electronic benefit transfer cards. The EBT cards function like debit cards and can be used to withdraw money from ATMs. Under this bill, neither the cards nor the cash can be used for the prohibited purchases. A Peterborough store clerk made news in 2012 when she was fired from her job for refusing to sell someone cigarettes on an EBT card.

Democratic Sens. Molly Kelly of Keene, Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth and Sylvia Larsen of Concord cast the only votes against the bill, which passed, 20-3.

Kelly said the state should be focusing on providing resources to help people on public assistance lift themselves out of poverty.

“The perception remains among some that poor people are lazy, are looking to game the system and are living easy off government assistance,” she said.

The bill does not specify many enforcement provisions. The bill also requires the department to report to the legislative fiscal committee in October on the implementation of this bill. The report must include recommendations for regulating the cash assistance programs and an education plan for benefit recipients on how they can use the money.

The bill now goes to the House, which is working on a similar measure that would prohibit only purchases of alcohol and cigarettes. The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee is recommending that bill for interim study. During a hearing on that bill, some lawmakers asked whether store clerks would be the primary enforcers and whether that was fair.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments3

As it is now... In Manchester, a Chinese Restaurant as a sign that reads; "EBT CASH BENEFITS ACCEPTED HERE". There are several other restaurants around Manchester that also have the same sign in the windows of their business. Hopefully our Representatives and Senators will also include this in the bill when it reaches the House floor.

The law as it is now is frustrating. People cannot use EBT Food Stamps to buy a "hot" meal. However, it is OK to use the "Cash" portion of the same card to buy alcohol and tobacco, and a variety of other items. It's OK to buy a pre-made sandwich on Food Stamps, but not OK to buy a sandwich made to order. You cannot buy a hot rotisserie chicken, but you can buy that same chicken after it is cooled down with your EBT card. The most vulnerable- the Elderly, who many of them have a hard time cooking for themselves and getting proper nutrition could buy a pre-cooked meal, ready to eat with minimal preparation. Forgive my rant, but there are so many inconsistencies in this program. this is at least a good step forward.

20-3, I like that.

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