Thursday, April 18, 2013

Florida Bans EBT Cards at Liquor Stores, Strip Clubs

The Florida senate passed a bill banning people who receive public assistance from using their EBT cards in liquor stores, smoke shops, strip clubs, and casinos. According to officials, about $93,000 was drawn at these establishments over a 30-month period.
During the House debate, Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, said, “This is another attack on hard-working poor people who are at the low end of the pay scale. Let’s stop beating up on poor people. Pick on somebody your size.” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said, “Liberty dying? Really? The only thing dying is liberty’s gambling addiction if she’s using public money because she’s a dancing girl that got her money out of a strip club. At a committee meeting earlier this month, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said t the “mean-spirited” bills paint an unfair picture of the state’s neediest families. “I think unfortunately that we’re going to be labeling people who have to use these EBT cards as strange people who like to hang out at strip clubs getting drunk,” Pafford said. He said people who work in casinos or other locales may need to use the debit cards at work to purchase things like fruit. Pafford said a new law is unnecessary because he believes the Department of Children and Families, which oversees the program, could impose the restriction itself through the rule-making process. But DCF officials say they do not have the authority to create the rule without the legislature’s permission. “Basically we had almost $1 million spent from the EBT program through casinos and alcohol,” Smith said, overstating by 10 times the amount cited by the 2011 report by Fort Myers-based NBC-2 and substantiated by DCF. “It’s not an apple they’re buying. We’re here to make sure that when our tax dollars are spent, it’s a hand up to help kids keep the roof over their heads and not to help somebody get their entertainment.” [...] The bills would ban TANF recipients from using the cards at liquor stores, casinos, racetracks and adult entertainment establishments as well as any place with a liquor license allowed to sell distilled spirits containing six percent or more alcohol by volume. Debit cards issued for food stamps are already barred from being used at those places. DCF officials said the current vendor for the EBT system does not have the ability to block the cards from being used at certain locations but that the agency’s contract with a new vendor who takes over later that year will require the service. But Pafford said the restrictions are too complicated for EBT users, who may not know what type of license the establishment has where they are trying to use the cards to withdraw cash. “I really don’t know if the legislation would really stop this type of thing. But somebody’s got to run a bill to prove that they’re hard on people that are already having a hard time. I’m so tired of people being able to file bills just to make certain people look bad when there’s no real reason to do it,” he said.

source: Palm Beach Post
The House passed the law by an 89-26 vote. First-time offenders who used their cards at the banned establishments will be ineligible for the EBT program for six months. Anyone who incurred three violations would be permanently disqualified from receiving aid. The law goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2013.

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