State Senator Patty Ritchie says that complaints from constituents have led her to co-sponsor legislation to prohibit the use of taxpayer-paid EBT welfare cards to buy lottery tickets, beer and cigarettes.
The bill, S.7671, introduced this week, came in response to complaints Ritchie received from constituents who told her they saw public benefit recipients using their EBT cards -- essentially a debit card that’s preloaded with welfare benefits, and can be used at groceries, supermarkets and a host of other locations -- to purchase alcohol, tobacco and even scratch-off lottery tickets.
Ritchie, a Republican from Heuvelton representing the 48th Senate District, is a prime sponsor of the bill, which also prohibits the use of EBTs at casinos.
“Welfare benefits are designed to give a helping hand to people in need, to ensure that children and families get proper nutrition, and to help with expenses related to finding a job,” said Ritchie. “People who need help deserve these benefits, but taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for beer, cigarettes and ‘win-for-life’ lottery tickets.”
EBT cards work like debit cards, with values varying based on benefits that an individual or family receives, including Food Stamps and cash assistance. And while federal rules prohibit the use of Food Stamp benefits for anything but nutritious grocery and food items, there is nothing to restrict the way that recipients use their cash benefits, Ritchie said.
According to the EBT brochure from the state Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance, which administers the EBT card program, “any item may be purchased using your cash benefit account where EBT cards are accepted.”
The cash assistance grants are supposed to be used for items like paper products, energy bills, and school supplies, according to Ritchie.
Ritchie said she is working with other cosponsors of the measure to get the bill passed before the Legislature adjourns next week.