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House sends EBT cards restriction to be studied

State House Bureau

May 07. 2014 6:06PM

CONCORD — Greater restrictions on benefit cards for four human services program will be studied by lawmakers after the House voted 188-161 Wednesday for more study.

Earlier this session, the House sent two other bills changing state laws governing the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to study for a comprehensive review of how the cards are used and how the system should be changed.

Senate Bill 203 would have prohibited anyone from using an EBT card from buying tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, guns or adult entertainment.

The bill also prohibited using the cards at a tattoo or body piercing establishment.

Federal law forbids the use of the cards for such things as strip clubs or race tracks and last year the state approved legislation that aligned the state statutes and rules with the federal law.

Supporters of SB 203 said the bill clearly defines for recipients and businesses that accept them what products can be purchased and what cannot with the cards.

The bill outlines what is acceptable to all the parties involved said Rep. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua.

“There are penalties for non-compliance. If I get stopped for speeding on I-93, I will pay a penalty.” LeBrun said. “Every law on the books has a penalty attached for those who abuse it.”

Under the bill, someone who uses the card to buy prohibited products could lose benefits for up to six weeks.

But others argued lawmakers are in the process of studying and reviewing the use of the EBT cards and a well-thought-out and reasoned approach will be presented to lawmakers next year.

“I do not use government as a weapon,” said Rep. Charles McMahon, R-Windham, who leads the study committee. “I ask my fellow members here not to join those who do.”

He said the committee needs additional data to develop a holistic policy to address issues raised about the cards.

One concern has been that recipients can use the cards at an ATM so there is no way to track what is purchased with cash unlike using the card at a grocery store.

McMahan said only 18 percent of the benefits distributed through the cards is redeemed at ATMs.

“We need to address this issue in a collaborative way,” McMahon said, “so we don’t treat our fellow citizens as fourth-class citizens.”

The vote to send the bill to interim study, a polite death in the second-year of the two-year term, was largely down party lines.

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