An NBC2’s investigation last year uncovered purchases made using government assistance money on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, similar to debit cards, at Florida ATMs inside liquor stores, strip clubs and even out-of-state locations such as Las Vegas and the Virgin Islands. Currently, there is no state law preventing such purchases, but Senator Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, has decided to do something about it, filing Senate Bill 1658. Her bill passed from the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee today.
“These dollars are intended to help struggling families, and in most cases, funds are being used appropriately,” said Storms. “But there is no excuse for misusing assistance dollars, and we have to make changes to the law to ensure this does not continue.”
Among its provisions, SB 1658 prohibits a recipient from using his or her EBT card to access cash benefits outside this state. It prohibits EBT card purchases made for alcohol or tobacco products, as well as certain foods such as candy, sweet rolls, chips and sodas. It also prevents access to automated teller machines located in gambling and adult entertainment establishments, and provides a list of establishments inside the state that a cash assistance recipient may not access cash benefits through an EBT card from an ATM.
Additionally, Storms’ bill requires the Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees the program, to add non-staple, unhealthy foods to the list of items that may not be purchased with federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds. The bill also prohibits the use of benefits at restaurants.
“I don’t think these inappropriate occurrences represent the whole,” added Storms. “Most individuals using public assistance dollars are using the funds to get by and to provide for their families. However, we should do what we can to prevent dollars intended to help Florida’s poorest families from being spent in the wrong places.”
A similar bill, HB 1401, is sponsored by Representative Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, in the House of Representatives.