Florida lawmakers look to ban EBT use at strip clubs, casinos, liquor stores

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Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban those receiving government assistance from using their electronic benefits (EBT) cards at strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.

Florida’s House Healthy Families Subcommittee on Wednesday approved a House bill, HB 701, introduced by Republican state Rep. Jimmie Smith to that end.

Those enrolled in food assistance programs or on temporary cash assistance generally access those benefits via EBT cards, which work like a credit or debit card.

The legislation, according to Smith, was a direct result of a section of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

That portion of the 2012 federal legislation requires states receiving to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grants to “maintain policies and practices as necessary to prevent assistance provided under the State program funded under this part from being used in any electronic benefit transfer transaction in any liquor store; any casino, gambling casino, or gaming establishment; or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment” by 2014.

“It has always been my agenda to make sure that if anybody is going to use tax dollars, it’s used to help,” Smith told The Daily Caller. “In that, not only are we in compliance with the federal government, but our tax dollars will be used to help people who really need help — and not for personal entertainment.”

Last April an Action News Jacksonville investigation revealed that some Floridians have been using their EBT cards at ATMs in strip clubs, bars and gambling facilities. As the news outlet reported, the government is not tracking where the assistance dollars are being spent.

“We have no ability. We have no laws in which to say — you can’t use your card here, here or here,” Florida Department of Children and Families spokesman Joe Follick told Action News at the time.

Republican state Sen. Andy Gardiner introduced companion legislation on the Senate side earlier this month.

Update: An earlier version of this story referenced the bill as filed. The provision banning EBT use in gun shops was stripped out in committee.

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Caroline May