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What are the rules about what you can buy?


DTA made a number of changes and suspended a number of rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guide notes in red when a rule was suspended during the pandemic.

Produced by Deborah Harris and Betsy Gwin, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2022

You are not allowed to use TAFDC benefits to pay for:

  • alcohol,
  • cigarettes or other tobacco products,
  • marijuana or marijuana products,
  • lottery tickets or other gambling,
  • jewelry,
  • vacation services,
  • court ordered fees, fines, bail or bail bonds,
  • tattoos or body piercings,
  • firearms and ammunition,
  • pornographic material or performances, or
  • a television, stereo, video game or console at a rent-to-own store.

If DTA finds that you knowingly paid for something in violation of these rules,

  • for the first offense, you will have to pay DTA back from your benefits for the amount of the purchase,
  • for the second offense, you will have to pay DTA back and lose your portion of the cash assistance grant for two months,
  • for the third offense, you will have to pay DTA back and permanently lose your portion of the cash assistance grant. 106 C.M.R. § 701.225; DTA Operations Memo 2013-56 (Nov. 21, 2013).

Advocacy Reminders

  • There is also a list of places that are not supposed to accept TAFDC benefits held on an EBT card. These include jewelry stores, rent-to-own stores, manicure shops, cruise ships, tattoo parlors, and marijuana establishments. Massachusetts General Laws c. 18, § 5J. The law does not provide for penalties for recipients whose benefits are accepted by an establishment in violation of this law, but DTA says that the penalties for making prohibited purchases with TAFDC benefits also apply if you use your EBT card at an establishment that is not supposed to accept it. Contact your local legal services program, Appendix D: Massachusetts Legal Services Offices, if that is a problem for you.
  • You have a right to use your EBT card to make purchases outside Massachusetts if you wish. DTA may try to close your case if DTA thinks that a pattern of EBT purchases outside Massachusetts shows that you are no longer a resident of Massachusetts. DTA Operations Memo 2013-34 (July 26, 2013). Email [email protected] if this is a problem for you.

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