March 29, 2012
BOSTON — A Massachusetts commission is recommending new restrictions on the use of Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT cards — the debit cards that have replaced food stamps. Some lawmakers say the proposals don’t go far enough.
The eight-member bipartisan panel includes state legislators, the Inspector General and representatives of the retail industry. The group recommended it be made illegal for low-income families to use their EBT cards at strip clubs, tattoo parlors, nail salons, gun shops and casinos.
> > READ: How to use an EBT card (mass.gov)
And some panel members want additional restrictions. Commission member Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) said welfare recipients could still use their EBT cards at ATMs to get cash, and then buy whatever they want:
“What are we going to do about the $415 million a year that we’re giving out to people and we don’t know how it’s being spent?" she asked. "I think we could have gone farther in oversight there.”
O’Connell wants to prevent people from using EBT cards to get cash. But those on assistance argue a change like that would make it impossible to pay for some basic needs like laundry, rent and babysitting.
The special commission was formed after media reports found that some welfare recipients were using their EBT cards to buy alcohol, cigarettes, scratch tickets and flat-screen televisions.
While some lawmakers maintain that EBT card fraud is rampant throughout Massachusetts, state officials say there’s no data to support that.
The changes endorsed by the commission would need approval from the Legislature, which voted last year to prohibit the use of EBT cards to buy alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.