ORLANDO, Fla. - A year and a half after 9 Investigates first exposed your welfare tax dollars being withdrawn in liquor stores, strip clubs and even casinos, a bill is moving through the state legislature that would end the spending spree.
The money on Florida Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards is meant to help needy families cover rent and other basic living expenses.
But in a review of 30 months of EBT card withdrawals, which first aired in 2011, 9 Investigates uncovered almost 700 withdrawals at stores with either “beer” or “liquor” in the name.
There were 200 at stories with “tobacco” or “smoke” in the name. And 9 Investigates even found $60,000 withdrawn inside the Miccosukee Indian Casino near Miami.
Now, Orlando-area State Sen. Andy Gardiner has introduced a new ban that would prohibit EBT cards from being used in liquor stores, strip clubs, dog racing tracks, mega casinos, strip mall casinos and other gaming establishments.
First-time violators would be kicked out of the EBT card program for six months. With three violations, recipients would be barred permanently from the program.
A similar bill passed the State House of Representatives last year but never got to the Senate floor.
But because this new bill was initiated by a senator, it may fare better.
Still, loopholes could linger. 9 Investigates’ original review found a $400 withdrawal at Neiman Marcus, but spending at luxury retailers is not mentioned in the new bill.
The Department of Children and Families administers the EBT card program. Gardiner told Channel 9 the department came to him with the idea for the changes.