Some Florida lawmakers want to stop welfare abuse by setting new rules for where government assistance cards can be used.
Every month, Florida gives needy families million of dollars in temporary cash assistance. It's supposed to help them cover basic living expenses. But there are no rules that limit where the government assistance (EBT) cards can be used.
So some are withdrawing state money from cash machines at dog tracks, bingo halls, liquor stores, and smoke shops across Tampa Bay, and around the state.
"Now that's ridiculous," said Tampa resident Oletha Jones. "Just like they screen the people they turn down. They need to screen the people that are in it, and apparently they are not doing that."
There are strict rules for SNAP (food stamp) benefits, but not for temporary cash assistance.
We spot-checked state records and found hundred-dollar withdrawals at high-end hotels and stores.
We discovered withdrawals at Busch Gardens, Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World.
We even found thousands withdrawn at casinos in Florida and on the Las Vegas strip. We also found withdrawals at two strip clubs.
"It should be easy for the government to say you can't use EBT in a strip club," observed Tampa resident Tim Blue.
None of the businesses are doing anything wrong, and the welfare recipients are not breaking any rules.
"Part of the problem is, when you have an economic shortfall in the budget. The last thing people want to spend money on is oversight," said USF political science professor Dr. Susan MacManus.
State Senator Ronda Storms is trying to change that. State Senator Jack Latvala is supporting her bill.
"Rather than cutting honest people who need infant formula and the basics of life, we need to start with people who are gaming the system," said Latvala.
State lawmakers are debating a plan that would ban state benefit withdrawals at strip clubs, casinos and out-of-state ATMs. But there are no guarantees it will pass.
Around 88,000 families get temporary cash assistance in Florida. On average, they get $240 a month for four and a half months. There is no way to track exactly how much is not spent as intended, but it appears to be a small percentage.
A DCF spokesman said the agency supports efforts to tighten the rules to make sure cash is properly spent.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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