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The next bad North Carolina law?

A Missouri bill would ban those on public assistance from using EBT cards to purchase some food items, including cookies.
A Missouri bill would ban those on public assistance from using EBT cards to purchase some food items, including cookies. Bloomberg

North Carolina Republicans aren’t exactly original thinkers when it comes to crafting legislation.

The bills they introduce regularly contain language and concepts lifted directly from what other conservative states have passed. Some are cribbed from conservative organizations, most notably the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helpfully provides model legislation for legislators to cut and paste.

So consider this a preview of what’s ahead in Raleigh: A Kansas bill on the desk of Gov. Sam Brownback would severely restrict what families receiving government aid can do with their money.

House Bill 2258 would forbid those who receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds from withdrawing more than $25 a day, and it would forbid them from using the money in any “video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park” and a long list of others.

At least 23 states have laws restricting the use of TANF funds, which are typically withdrawn using electronic benefit transfer cards at an ATM. States also issue Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) money (formerly known as food stamps) through EBT cards, and those funds can only be used for food.

North Carolina doesn’t yet have a law governing TANF funds and EBT cards, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many of these state laws make sense. They restrict using the money for items like lottery tickets and guns – things that clearly weren’t the intent of TANF. Federal law, enacted in 2012, also bans EBT card use in liquor stores, gaming or gambling establishments or adult entertainment venues. Same principle.

But Kansas, along with some other states, has decided to get mean. In Kansas, someone on federal assistance wouldn’t be able to use the EBT to take a child to a swimming pool. No trips to the movies allowed, either. In Missouri, a bill would ban using an EBT card to purchase cookies, chips or a Coke, let alone more expensive items like steak.

Rick Brattin, the Missouri Republican who introduced the restrictive bill, says he’s seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards. That’s far-fetched, given that the SNAP per diem is less than $10 a day.

It’s also the all-too-typical conservative ploy of using flimsy anecdotes to demean large populations. Case in point: When North Carolina proudly became the first state to cut unemployment benefits in the teeth of an economic downturn, legislators and others were quick to come forth with tales of folks who needed an extra nudge to search for work.

Truth is, most were trying hard then to find a job, and most people use welfare as a transitional safety net on their way back to employment and normalcy.

But that doesn’t fit the conservative narrative of people gaming the system – a narrative that makes it easier to give less money to those who need it most.

It’s also how we get legislation like the unnecessary and likely unconstitutional N.C. law requiring those applying for public assistance to take a drug test. That one, which Gov. Pat McCrory initially vetoed, goes into effect in July.

It was copied from Florida.

Peter St. Onge

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