Whiton says she'll propose welfare reform to new Legislature
ANTRIM - Tuesday's election ousting Republican control of the state house has not daunted Jackie Whiton's resolve to reform the state's welfare system.
"That doesn't faze me whether they are Republicans or Democrats. They're taxpayers, they're lawmakers," she said Thursday. "I'm going to get in touch with Maggie Hassan's office and see what I can do there."
The former Peterborough convenience store clerk was fired in May after she refused to accept a welfare cash card for cigarettes.
If it were up to Whiton, of Antrim, nonessential expenses such as alcohol, cigarettes, tattoos and lap dances would not be funded through the state's welfare program.
After she told her story, House Speaker Bill O'Brien contacted her, and she met with him and several other state representatives in Concord. During the summer, she started circulating a petition, which now has more than 1,100 signatures, she said.
"I didn't expect to get 1,000 to be honest with you, but I'm pleased to have gotten what we've gotten, and the more we have, the better," Whiton said. She said volunteers from across the state have helped collect signatures.
In Whiton's petition, she asks state legislators "to regulate the use of Cash Benefits loaded onto the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card/cash card/debt card 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, nail services and other items that are not essential for daily living."
Whiton wants change because there are elderly people who can't afford to heat their homes or buy groceries and because her grandchildren's generation will ultimately pay the price for the state's irresponsible spending, she said.
She is not opposed to cash assistance from the state, just to what she sees as its misuse.
"I smoke myself, but I pay for my own; the state doesn't buy them. Why should the taxpayers pay for it," Whiton said.
Although Whiton is optimistic her proposal will gain favor in the next session of the Legislature, recently ousted Republican state rep. Peter Silva of Nashua, who was one of the lawmakers who met with Whiton in Concord, said the new Democrat-controlled House will not see things her way.
"I can almost guarantee nothing will happen," Silva said. "There's no way a Democratic House is going to allow that to happen. It's impossible. In fact, they'll probably increase the benefits."
Although Democratic state Rep. Peter Leishman of Peterborough supported Whiton last summer, Silva said, EBT reform is unlikely to come from a party that looks to President Barack Obama - during whose presidency welfare and food stamp dependence has gone up across the country - as their leader.
"Politically, it should be bipartisan," Silva said. "I don't know who thinks it's a good idea to use your EBT card to gamble with it and buy cigarettes. That's why we're in the trouble we're in."
Asked via email whether Whiton's proposed EBT reform would go forward without a Republican-dominated house, Leishman wrote: "After our meeting with the speaker, I never heard anything more from either the speaker or Mrs. Whiton. I believe a request for additional information was forwarded from the speaker to the DHHS, but I have not been made aware of a response."
He added that he was sure the Democrats would be asking questions of the Department of Health and Human Services at upcoming budget hearings.
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Meghan Pierce may be reached at email@example.com.