Bill that would ban using EBT cards to buy cigarettes closer to becoming law

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If you receive public assistance money, you can use it to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products. You can also buy these products using an EPPICard, which is used to transmit child support payments from one parent to another. Some lawmakers say both of these instances are abuse.

In a 13-7 decision the House Health Committee voted to pass a bill that would prohibit people from using EBT and EPPICards to purchase tobacco and tobacco paraphernalia.

A spokesperson with the Department of Public Welfare explained that two different types of funding go to EBT cards. One type, is food stamps or SNAP benefits. The other is Public Assistance. Purchasing tobacco and other tobacco paraphernalia is already banned with Food Stamp/SNAP benefits.

What is currently allowed, at point of sale, is using public assistance funds to purchase cigarettes, tobacco products and tobacco paraphernalia.

Some lawmakers hope to change this.

“The taxpayers of Pennsylvania are going to help you when you are down and out. But, it’s not appropriate to take advantage of taxpayers and purchase tobacco with that money,” said the prime sponsor of the bill, Representative Mike Reese, (R) 59th District.

Representative Florindo Fabrizio (D) 2nd District voted against the bill because of the inclusion of EPPICards. Rep. Fabrizio said child support is a private matter that the government should not get involved in. “We were informed EPPIcards were involved in this, they have nothing to do with public funding. It’s from one parent to another,” said Rep. Fabrizio.

Committee members also passed an amendment that would ban the use of EBT and EPPICards at any entity licensed by the Liquor Control Board or the Gaming Control Board. According to a Department of Public Welfare spokesperson it is already prohibited to purchase alcohol. This would now add places such as bars, casinos and strip clubs.

“It is well-intentioned. Not practical. I’ll be a no vote,” said Rep. Michael O’Brien (D) 175th District. “It is not enforceable. There is nothing here that I see that prevents a recipient from going around the corner and taking cash out and going to the liquor store,” said Rep. O’Brien.

“You’re right,” said Rep. Reese. “There absolutely is a loophole with the ability to take cash out at an ATM machine. I have another bill dealing with that. But this is a first step.”

Now the bill will move to the Full House for consideration.


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