COVINGTON -- State Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, has announced the introduction of House Bill 138, that would limit the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards.
The legislation would place congressionally mandated restrictions on the use of EBT cards that are provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
"HB 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," said Welch.
HB 138 would prevent TANF recipients from using EBT cards at certain retail establishments, including liquor stores and adult entertainment establishments. It would also prevent TANF recipients from using their EBT cards to withdraw cash from an ATM or retail establishment.
In addition to limiting where EBT cards may be used, HB 138 limits what an EBT card may be used to purchase. The legislation would prohibit EBT cards 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. HB 138 would also prohibit using an EBT card to pay fines, fees, bail or bail bonds to any government entity.
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 December 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 HB 138 would be subject to penalties established by the Georgia Department of Human Resources, which may include fines or a suspension or prohibition from accepting TANF payments. The 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 Department of Human Resources.
Finally, this legislation requires the 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. HB 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.