New Limits on What You Can Buy With Your EBT Card

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If you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Maine, the law now makes it illegal for you to buy the following products and services:

  • Tobacco products
  • Liquor or imitation liquor
  • Gambling activity
  • Lotteries conducted by the State of Maine or the Tri-State Lotto Commission
  • Bail
  • Firearms
  • Ammunition
  • Vacation or travel services
  • Publications, services or entertainment that contain or promote “obscene matter”
  • Tattoos or other body art

The law is clear that you can’t use your EBT card to buy these things.  What is not clear is whether you can use TANF cash from your EBT card to buy them.  We will work to get an answer to this question as soon as possible. In the meantime it is safest not to use your EBT card or any TANF cash to buy these products.  If you have other cash, like earnings from a job or child support, those funds can be used to purchase these items, since there are no limits on how you can spend other kinds of income. 

Your EBT Card Will NOT Automatically Block these Purchases.

Be careful.  If you try to buy these things with your EBT card or TANF cash, the sale may still go through and you may still be penalized!

The Penalties are Serious for Violating this Law.

Your first violation means that you must pay back the amount used to purchase the banned product or service, plus the loss of your TANF benefits for three months.  Penalties go up sharply with each additional violation.  For a second violation the loss of TANF benefits goes up to 12 months and for a third violation, it goes up to 24 months.

Know Your Rights!

If you’re accused of using your EBT card or TANF cash to buy any of these banned items, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will automatically hold a hearing to determine whether you violated the law.  You will continue to receive your TANF benefits at least until after the hearing takes place and a final determination is made.    

Here are a few things to know about the hearing:

Hearing Date:

  • You should get notice of the hearing at least 30 days prior to the hearing date.
  • You may ask to reschedule the hearing but you must do so 10 or more days prior to the hearing date.
  • If you already missed your hearing date, you may qualify for a good cause exemption and may still be able to reschedule.  You would need to request this exemption within 10 days after the hearing date.
  • If you miss the hearing and do not qualify for a good cause exemption, the hearing will take place without you.  You will likely be found guilty and then must face the penalties, as described above. 

At the hearing, you have the right to:

  • Review the evidence DHHS has against you;
  • Dispute the charge against you;
  • Present witnesses or other evidence to help defend against the charge;
  • Have someone there to represent you, such as an attorney or a social worker; or
  • Have an authorized representative attend the hearing in your place.

If, after the hearing, DHHS finds that you did violate this law you would also have the right to appeal this decision to court.

For help with the hearing or appeal process, or if you have questions, please contact Maine Equal Justice Partners.  Call toll-free at 1-866-626-7059.