"I don't know one person who uses their EBT money to buy liquor or anything like that," Valdez said.
Washington state lawmakers have prohibited purchases of tattoos, body piercings, alcohol and tobacco. Bars, bail bond agencies, gambling establishments and strip clubs are also now required to deactivate the ability of their ATMs to accept benefit cards. Colorado and Indiana have banned alcohol, guns and gambling.
Lawmakers in New Hampshire are calling for tighter restrictions after Jackie Whiton, a Peterborough store clerk, was fired in May for turning away a customer who tried to legally buy cigarettes with a benefits card. "I could not sit back and watch it happen," she said.
Christopher Borges, a New Hampshire resident, defended his and other welfare recipients' ability to buy cigarettes in a July 7 editorial submitted to the Concord Monitor newspaper.
"Why do people who are sick or unemployed need to justify their spending habits, simply because they are in receipt of support from their community (transferred via the government in the form of cash)?" he wrote. He did not respond to requests for comment.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering banning card purchases of tattoos, pornography and guns. The proposal would also prohibit spending at nail salons, jewelry stores and casinos. Welfare recipients in the state are already barred from using their cards to buy lottery tickets, tobacco and alcohol. Pennsylvania legislators are calling for sweeping restrictions as well.
Philadelphia resident Lisa Crawford, who receives $375 a month in benefits for herself and her 11-year-old son, said using public assistance at strip clubs and liquor stores is "abusive." But otherwise, she said, "I think you should be accountable for your living situation and should be able to buy what you want as long as your main bills are taken care of."
Crawford, who has been going on job interviews, said nail or hair salons shouldn't be put off limits, in part because job-seekers must look presentable: "Luxuries can also help you in the workforce."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Juliet Williams in Sacramento, Calif., Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., Michael Virtanen in Albany, N.Y., and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa.
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