PETERBOROUGH — Jackie R. Whiton of Antrim had been a six-year employee at the Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough until a single transaction sent her job up in smoke.
The store clerk was fired after she refused to take a customer’s Electronic Balance Transfer card to pay for cigarettes.
Whiton said a young man came in to the store to buy two packs or cigarettes on May 29. When she asked him for his ID, he handed her his EBT card.
EBT cards are used for both food and cash assistance programs. There are two types of cards: one can only be used for food. The other can be spent on anything and used just like a debit card.
Whiton said she did not think EBT cards could be used to purchase cigarettes and refused to sell to him. The two “had a little go-around” as the line got longer behind him, said Whiton.
“I made the statement, ‘do you think myself, that lady and that gentlemen should pay for your cigarettes?’ and he responded ‘yes,’ ” Whiton said.
The next day Whiton said the customer’s foster mother came to the store to complain. Whiton received a call later that day from the company’s home office in Maine, telling her it had received a complaint about her and reprimanded her.
“I said I would bow out gracefully and give my notice because I didn’t want to be a part of it. I’m 65 years old, you know?” Whiton said.
Charles E. Wilkins, the general manager of the C.N. Brown Co. that runs the stores, said the EBT cards in the cash phase could be used for any items, including alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Wilkins said the company gave Whiton the option of staying but she said she would not accept the cards anymore.
“She didn’t think it was right and just wasn’t going to sell to people in that program anymore,” Wilkins said.
Whiton said when she came to work the next day, her manager asked her how much notice she was giving. When she responded “a week,” she was told the home office had just called and fired her.
Wilkins said she would have had to accept the cards within that week.
Whiton said she was not looking for another job.
Whiton said she does not object to using the programs for food assistance, but does not think a person should be able to use public funds to buy cigarettes.
“They can’t even buy toilet paper with the EBT grocery cards but they can buy beer and cigarettes with the EBT cash cards,” Whiton said, “Go figure.”