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Posted: February 19, 2013 10:01 p.m.

Welch sponsors bill limiting EBT use

State Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, has introduced H.B. 138, which would limit where some Electronic Benefit Transfer cards can be used and what they can be used to purchased.

The bill is needed to bring Georgia into compliance with recently passed federal law by placing restrictions on the use of EBT cards issued through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, including disallowing the cards to be used at liquor stores and adult entertainment establishments and preventing them from being used to purchase lottery tickets, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, pornographic materials, firearms and ammunition, vacation services, tattoos or body piercings, jewelry, salon services, gambling, and gift cards.

This legislation would also prevent TANF recipients from using their EBT cards to withdraw cash from an ATM or retail establishment and would prohibit using an EBT card to pay fines, fees, bail, or bail bonds to any government entity.
“H.B. 138 is designed to reduce fraud and misuse of TANF funds for purposes that in no way benefit the families and children who desperately need public assistance,” Welch said in a press release.

HB 138 also requires the Georgia Department of Human Services to establish a toll-free phone number and a website for reporting violations of these provisions. The toll-free phone number and website would have to be operational by Dec. 1. Retail establishments that accept TANF payment would also be required to post a sign at each register listing all the products prohibited from being purchased with EBT cards, along with the phone number and website for reporting violations. These establishments must also keep receipts of all purchases made with EBT cards for 180 days.

If enacted into law, any retail establishment found in violation of any part of H.B. 138 would be subject to penalties established by the human services department, which may include fines or a suspension or prohibition from accepting TANF payments. The human services department would also be empowered to reduce TANF benefits by 25 percent to any recipient who violates this legislation for the first time and to terminate benefits upon a recipient’s second violation within a time period to be determined by the state.

Finally, this legislation requires the human services department to take necessary steps to establish and enforce policies aimed at preventing improper use of EBT cards.

TANF is a federal block grant program that allows states to provide cash assistance through the issuance of EBT cards to qualifying low income families with children. The program was created by the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996 to provide temporary financial assistance and help beneficiaries find employment.
Congress attempted to prevent abuse of the program by approving the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. This federal legislation requires states with TANF programs to establish policies and procedures that prohibit the use of benefit cards at certain establishments and for certain purposes. It also penalizes states that do not comply with the act. H.B. 138 was introduced to bring Georgia into compliance with this federal statute.

Welch represents the citizens of District 110, which includes portions of Butts, Henry and Newton counties.

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