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Electronic benefits: Sin and the EBT card

Since a Peterborough convenience store clerk was fired in 2012 for refusing to let a customer buy cigarettes with a government Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, some Republicans have tried to further restrict EBT card use. A Senate bill up for a vote today is the latest effort, and it shows why this is not so easy.

Senate Bill 203 would prohibit using an EBT card or cash obtained with an EBT card “to gamble or to purchase tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, lottery tickets, firearms, or adult entertainment.” The original bill required card users to keep and report their receipts every time they used the card to withdraw cash. A Senate Finance Committee amendment removes that provision.

This effort really is a movement to turn back to the time before government doled out benefits to anyone who fell below a certain income threshold. But as long as the only qualification for aid is a low income, and the cards can be used for cash, then these restrictions will achieve little.

The real problem is not the cards. It is that by basing aid on income, the state has crowded private charities out of the business of offering aid in exchange for improved behavior.

Eric Church
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