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Thursday, February 9, 2012

EBT restriction bills advance

Moves are underway at both the federal and state levels to restrict what goods and services food stamp recipients can purchase with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. The Welfare Integrity Now (WIN) for Children and Families Act of 2011 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 1, 2012, and a Florida bill introduced January 2012 passed out of the Florida Senate's Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.

The WIN for Children and Families Act passed the House with overwhelming support – 395 votes in favor to 27 opposed. The bill, HR 3567, would restrict Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds loaded onto EBT cards from being used at strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.

The bill's sponsor, Congressman Charles W. Boustany, Jr., M.D., R-South Louisiana, said welfare funds were never intended to be used at such establishments. "This bill holds states responsible for protecting taxpayer funds while continuing to provide the support many American families need during these difficult times," he added.

Contained in the bill is a penalty for states that fail to implement and maintain TANF restrictions. If a state is not in compliance with the regulations two years after the bill is enacted into law, the federal government would reduce by 5 percent the amount of family assistance grants allocated to that state.

Shining a light in the Sunshine State

The Florida bill, SB 1658, would prohibit Florida-issued EBT cards from being used for the purchase of such items as alcohol and tobacco, as well as prevent access to ATMs located in gambling and adult entertainment establishments.

Florida Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said state tax dollars should be used to help struggling families and not for liquor purchases or for making payments at Florida strip clubs and out-of-state vacation destinations like Las Vegas and the Virgin Islands.

The bill would ban recipients of funds from Florida's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from using EBT cards to purchase alcohol, tobacco, candy, sweet rolls, potato chips and soda drinks, as well as at restaurants.

"I don't think these inappropriate occurrences represent the whole," Storms said. "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."

SB 1658 was taken up by the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations on Feb. 9, 2012. A similar bill, HB 1401, sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, is working its way through Florida's House of Representatives. end of article

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