A bill has been tabled in the Pennsylvania state house of representatives which would prevent recipients of government assistance from purchasing tobacco products using welfare.
Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland/Somerset) argues that the bill is necessary to clamp down on those using government cash inappropriately.
“Like any government expense, these funds must be spent wisely,” Reese said in a statement. “Every assistance dollar that is wasted could otherwise be used to help a struggling family pay their rent or buy groceries, which is the true purpose of assistance programs.”
At present, state law already bans the use of government assistance to buy liquor and alcohol products. Reese hopes to tighten this further by preventing electronic benefit transaction cards from being used to withdraw cash at businesses regulated by the Pennsylvania State Gambling Control Board, and the state’s Liquor Control Board.
House bill 1038 will now be considered by the state house of representatives’ health committee.
Reese’s proposal is only the latest in a series of similar measures which have seen purchases of everything from a tattoo to a cruise being banned. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 23 US states have laws restricting EBT card use on their books.
Supporters of such measures maintain they encourage welfare claimants in to work.
Theresa Freed, director of communications at the Kansas department for children and family services, explained the thinking behind a similar law enacted in the state.
“The law is really about encouraging individuals to become employed. We believe that employment is the most effective path out of poverty.”
Not everyone is convinced that it’s the best way to go. Policy analysts have criticized restrictions on EBT cards for stigmatizing welfare recipients and creating the impression that they abuse the system when most in fact do not.