Florida Republicans hoping to stop people from abusing the state’s food stamp program introduced a bill Thursday to better define purchasing restrictions
SB 218, introduced by Sen. Travis Hutson, is designed to prevent individuals from using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to buy drugs, firearms or other off limits items. The government-issued debit card replaced printed food stamps as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A House version of the bill was already introduced last months by Republican state Rep. Jimmie Smith
“The key thing here is people are abusing EBT cards,” Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “When they arrest drug dealers, they have piles of EBT cards.”
Selling cards is a huge problem as well. The bill would increase penalties for those caught in possession of multiple cards or a card that doesn’t belong to them. At the moment officials are looking into the specifics of how bad abuse is in the state, but Hutson notes it’s something law enforcement and the state attorney general see happening a lot.
“We’re getting law enforcement to get some more data,” Hutson told TheDCNF. “Base on our conversation, they have seen the problem increase.”
For Hutson and Smith, it’s not just about stopping abuse. It’s about making sure those families and individuals that really need help get it.
“That is not what this is for, this is for people that need it,” Smith said. “I have had conversations with colleagues that say this is common sense.”
Smith is optimistic he will get enough support among other Republicans and his Democratic colleagues. As the local affiliate of NBC reports, however, some Democrats opposed a similar bill during the 2013 session. They condemned the bill as being just political posturing. Critics say that the state Department of Children and Families can already shut off EBT cards.
SNAP is the nation’s largest food-assistance program. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The improved economy, though, has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million.
Nevertheless, the size alone has prompted concern among many lawmakers. In response, there have been many different proposals on the federal and local level to help prevent abuse.
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