A New Hampshire clerk who refused to sell cigarettes to a welfare recipient and was fired now finds that she is a cause celebre to those who are outraged that it is legal to use the taxpayer-funded benefit to purchase tobacco products, alcohol and similar non-essential items.
Jackie Whiton, 65, lost her job as a clerk at a Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough late last month after refusing to accept an Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card as payment for the smokes. "He was very capable of working," she said of the customer. "So I told him to get a J-O-B."
Publicity about the incident has resulted in a flood of support nationwide for Whiton's firm stand, reports the Union Leader of Manchester.
Whiton said she worked at the store for six years, though a spokesman for the parent company of the 78-store chain, C.N. Brown Co., told the Boston Herald she was employed for four years.
Whiton said the incident began when a young man handed her an EBT card as ID to purchase the cigarettes. "I told him he couldn't buy them with the card, and he said [that] yes he could," the Leader quotes her as saying.
When her bosses caught wind of the incident, they told her she couldn't refuse to sell cigarettes to EBT holders because there is no law prohibiting such transactions, which Whiton apparently was unaware of.
Whiton responded by resigning. But before she could serve out her notice, a similar incident occurred and she was fired.
A spokesman for the company told the Herald: "Company policy is to follow rules and regulations, and the sale of cigarettes to EBT card-holders is legal."
No state in the nation restricts how cash benefits can be spent, the Leader quotes Terry Smith of New Hampshire's Department of Health and Human Services as saying.
"That's pretty much the law of the land; it's not just New Hampshire," he said.
Smith told Boston's WCVB-TV that his agency doesn't have the authority to restrict how recipients use their benefits. "It is a moot point in that anybody can go to an ATM, withdraw cash and spend it invisibly anyway."
Still, Whiton doesn't think it's right. "People work hard for their money," she told Boston TV station WFXT. "[I]t's their hard earned money that's paying for these people that can use these cards as a debit card, and I think it's a huge burden on the taxpayers."
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