(TALLAHASSE, Fla.) — A proposed bill in the Florida state senate would ban people who receive public assistance from withdrawing money from their electronic benefits transfer program accounts in liquor stores, smoke shops, strip clubs and casinos.
Florida residents using a state-administered EBT card would also no longer be able to withdraw funds from ATMs at dog racing tracks and other gaming establishments if the bill goes into effect.
Known in Florida as Senate Bill 1048, the legislation seeks to “develop minimum program requirements and other policy initiatives, including enforcement procedures from the electronic benefits program,” the bill states.
Funded by taxpayer dollars, the EBT program is established to help buy food, provide cash assistance, make healthcare available at low or no cost and help pay Medicare premiums, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families website, which administers the benefits program.
Those eligible for food stamps or cash benefits receive an allowance on their EBT card each month. Those enrolled in the program can use the card to either debit purchases or take out cash. The benefits remain in a participant’s account for 12 months before they expire.
But there has been a problem with EBT users withdrawing cash from their benefit cards at liquor stores, smoke shops and casinos across the state.
ABC Orlando affiliate WFTV uncovered almost 700 withdrawals at stores with the words “liquor” or “beer” in the title, as well as about 200 stores with “tobacco” or “smoke” in their name over a 30-month period.
WFTV reported $60,000 in EBT card withdrawals were made inside a casino run by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians near Miami.
If the bill passes, first-time offenders would be ineligible for the EBT program for six months. Anyone who incurred three violations would be permanently disqualified from receiving aid.
If approved, the law would take effect on Oct. 1, 2013.
ABC News’ calls to the Florida Department of Children and Families were not immediately returned.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Billy Hallowell, Deseret News
Stephen Collinson, CNN