N.H. Grandmother Becomes Advocate For Welfare Reform After Losing Job

| by Allison Geller

Colorado isn’t the only place where residents are worried about the use of cash assistance cards for controlled substances. A New Hampshire grandmother became the poster child, somewhat by accident, for the banning of cigarette and alcohol purchases with EBT cards.

Jackie Whiton, 67, was fired from her job at a convenience store for refusing to sell a man cigarettes via an EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer, card. That was in May 2012. Since then, she has become a champion for statewide welfare reform, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.  

Whiton started a petition and collected 1,300 signatures since being let go. Even a woman who uses an EBT card for food stamps, not cash assistance, asked for a copy of the petition and collected 200 signatures of her own.

"What I brought out, a lot of people weren't aware of, and once they were made aware of it, they got upset,” said Whiton.

While Whiton smokes cigarettes herself, she maintains, "I pay for my own. I don't feel the taxpayers' money should be spent like this."

Two new bills to limit how EBT cards can be used are now on the table in each chamber of the state legislature. The House bill would prevent EBT-card holders from using the cards or cash obtained from them to buy alcohol or tobacco, while the Senate bill would disallow them in adult venues, tattoo parlors, gun shops, or for the purchase of lottery tickets as well as alcohol and tobacco. It would also limit cash withdrawals from the cards to $25 each time.

Rep. Frank Sapareto (R-Derry), one of the sponsors of the House bill, said about 50 of his constituents have called to thank him.

"I commend that clerk for standing up for what she believed is right and standing up for what the majority of people who are paying the bills think, too," he said of Whiton.

Not everyone approves of the measures. Terry Smith, director of the state Division of Family Assistance, pointed out that there is no universal bar code all stores use for cigarettes and alcohol, and that people behind the counter won’t be able to keep track of who can buy what products. In addition to the administrative headache, some welfare recipients rely on EBT cash withdrawals to pay rent, so the $25 limit is problematic.

Whiton’s crusade has ignited a new round of debate about who should decide how welfare recipients spend their benefits. With supporters in both parties, a New Hampshire House committee is scheduled to take up measure today.