Free ObamaDollars: The EBT Card for Cigarettes and Alcohol

Ann-Marie Murrell
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Posted: Jul 03, 2012 12:01 AM

My son called me, furious. 

“I was just in line at the grocery store, and the girl in front of me had all this food and paid for it with an EBT card,” he told me. 

“Okay,” I said, trying to calm him down.  “You’ve lived here all your life--you know that’s normal in L.A.” 

“Yeah, but her boyfriend was in line right behind her and he had beer and all kinds of alcohol and then he got cigarettes and they paid for it with their EBT cash card after they got all their food!” he yelled.  “I saved all week to buy my stupid groceries.  I clipped coupons to save a few bucks, bought off-brand things and then I ended up paying for all of their food and their party stuff, too!” 

I didn’t know what to say because basically he was right.

The public relations makeover for the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card is not only changing the entire system, it’s also taking away the last bit of “good shame” (the type you feel when you’d rather not be doing something) previously associated with using food stamps. 

The EBT card looks like any other ATM or credit card: 

And in California, you’re not only allowed to use your EBT cards at almost any fast-food restaurant, they actually seem to encourage it with large signs in their windows, billboards and advertisements.  It’s simply no big deal anymore.  You just swipe your card and there’s your food.

(By the way, why isn’t Michelle Obama all over this “free junk food” thing? But I digress…)

The easy-to-use EBT card has, of course, already had its share of abuses.

In a 2010 Los Angeles Times report, EBT cards were being used in places like Indian casinos and strip clubs. 

According to The Times, it was discovered that nearly $5 million in cash benefits were spent or withdrawn from ATMs at casinos and poker rooms between January 2007 and May 2010.

“The cards, which provide recipients access to federal as well as state cash, were also used in tourist destinations, including the Las Vegas Strip, a remote Hawaiian island that is home to two Four Seasons resorts and on cruise ships leaving from ports around the globe,” The Times reported.

To try to combat the abuses, a bill was introduced last year by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee which bars welfare recipients nationwide from using their EBT cards in casinos, strip clubs, liquor stores, massage parlors, medical marijuana dispensaries, bars and even cruise ships.

California liberals immediately called the bill “discriminatory”.

Jessica Bartholow, a spokeswoman for the Western Center on Law and Poverty said, "These measures come from a place of wanting to smear the names of low-income people who are looking toward the [welfare] program to help end hunger and homelessness."

In then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s defense, he fought to combat welfare fraud--including the use of fingerprinting food stamp recipients-- but he was shot down every step of the way.

It’s not just California-- EBT abuse is happening nationwide.  In Washington, Republican Senator Mike Carrell tried to pass a bill that would ban the use of EBT’s in tattoo parlors, bars and gun shops. 

“In Washington State EBT cards and their PINs are sometimes sold on sites like Craigslist.  Then the sellers report them stolen and get new ones,” Carrell said in Spokesman.com. The report says that approximately 37,000 cards a year are reported lost or stolen and are replaced.

The good news is that a phenomenon is happening throughout the United States in which regular citizens are starting to take a stand. 

In Peterborough, New Hampshire, 65-year old store clerk Jackie Whiton refused to sell cigarettes to someone using an EBT cash card. 

Whiton claimed she initially didn’t realize that there were two different types of EBT cards: one used strictly for food and one that can be used as a debit card for any items, including cigarettes and alcohol.  However after being reprimanded, Whiton told her manager that she still wouldn't sell to EBT users because she didn't think it was right.

"I made the statement, 'Do you think myself, that lady and that gentlemen should pay for your cigarettes?' Whiton told the New Hampshire Sentinel Source. "And he responded 'yes.' He was very capable of working, so I told him to get a J-O-B."

She was fired soon after.

Yes, Ms. Whiton was wrong since the rules in her state say it is okay to use EBT cards for the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol—but our question nationwide should be why is this even possible?  How can “free” alcohol and cigarettes help poor people? 

Maybe the only good thing about this EBT bonanza is that it is making a lot of struggling 20-somethings like my son and his friends very angry. 

Kids who were previously Democrats are now seeing the difference between what Obama and his regime are promoting in America—complete government dependence—and the Conservative/Republican stance, which is self-sufficiency. 

For a political party that is always whining about ‘leveling the playing field,’ it’s not looking very ‘level’ to people like my son and his friends, who actually have to work hard for a living and are realizing first-hand that they are the ones paying for someone else’s food--alcohol and cigarettes.